Laura LM Hoopes

Multipurpose Nature Reserves: Do They Work for Chinese Crane Conservation?



Above: Mike and Laura with translator, peasant village leader, and nature reserve manager having lunch together.  Below: At Wu Cheng Pagoda at Poyang Lake.

                                                                                    Hoopes,  Laura L. Mays

                                                                                                Pomona College Faculty

Postal addresses:

Biology Department                           2310 Navarro Drive               

609 N College Ave                             Claremont, CA 91711

Claremont, CA 91711                         USA


(909) 607-7438                                   (909) 621-4738

Captive-bred ‘dumb chicken’ crane and fire at Zhalong Nature Reserve

Short project description: 

I visited China in March-April, 2005 to examine the interaction between cranes and people at two nature reserves, Poyang Hu in Jiangxi Province in the South, and Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province in Northern China.  Because many uses are permitted on these reserves, people and cranes come into much closer contact than at reserves in the USA.  At Poyang Hu Nature Reserve, I was able to talk with professional conservationists, local peasant villagers, and children in a school in Wu Cheng village about their feelings towards cranes.  There was widespread good feeling about cranes and conservation, although I saw evidence of illegal fishing on the reserve by peasants.  School children were quite knowledgeable about crane biology.  We saw about 1000 Siberian cranes, perhaps ½ or 1/3 of the world’s population of these birds; they were ‘smart chickens’ as is the Chinese nickname for cranes, and stayed far away from people.   A natural disaster, a large fire, had destroyed a lot of habitat at Zhalong Nature Reserve near Qiqihar in Manchuria back in 2001; I come from a fire-prone area and was interested in how people cope with that sort of disaster.  It turned out that we could not do much at Zhalong because it was burning again in late March, 2005.  A reed fire was in progress; in addition, the red-crowned cranes had not arrived due to a late spring.  However, we were able to see results of a captive breeding program there: the ‘freed’ captive bred cranes were not ‘smart chickens’ and came right up to people.  The fire may have been lit by farmes because farm livelihoods require burning to renew the reed beds, so the reed harvests will be good the following year.  The farmers sell the reeds to make specialty papers.  People also blamed new dams upstream of the reserve that had made the reserve very dry for the seriousness of the fire, which burned about 1/6 of the total area of the reserve, causing predictions that the cranes will go elsewhere when they do migrate north. 

Length of trip; calendar months of travel.  I visited for three weeks, in March/April hoping to see cranes and people interact at wintering and summering sites.  However, since it was a late winter, barely spring, I saw the cranes at the wintering site but missed the wild cranes at the summering site.

Chinese language skills:  By the time I went, I had taken a year of private weekly tutoring in Chinese by Chun Yue Xu, an economics graduate student at CGU, eaten at the Chinese language tables in Oldenborg occasionally, and taken a one semester class in Chinese conversation for business and travel at Pasadena City College in fall, 2004   I brought a phrase book, and Chun Yue’s characters for the sites I wanted to visit.


Avery Report: Relationship between Cranes and People in China

Laura L. Mays Hoopes

Pomona College


Summary of Issues Investigated:

            Cranes are among the oldest birds and also among the largest; they have survived for millions of years but now their environments are threatened and their survival is uncertain.  There are 15 different species, some of which live on every one of the  continents; many migrate long distances seasonally.  Asia has more cranes as well as more crane species than any other continent.  Cranes have admirable characteristics: they have great longevity, take good care of their progeny, and show strong fidelity to their mates.  Asian cultures have used these birds as traditional symbols of marital bliss and longevity; many wonderful poems, scrolls, sculptures, screens, etc. depict cranes.  We were able to see and photograph some beautiful art featuring cranes, at Yu Yuan in Shanghai, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing, and Wu Cheng.  Admiration of cranes continues, even as humans threaten their resources.  Peter Matthiessen, in his book Birds of Heaven, quotes Jim Harris of the International Crane Foundation as follows, “The Chinese like the idea of nature as an abstraction, as a metaphor, which is why it is prominent in their art, but the reality makes them uneasy.  The new generations have no experience of wilderness, far less wild creatures.”

            In China, cranes are protected by Nature Reserves, at which there has been no change in the traditional human activities such as rice farming, reed harvesting, and fishing.  The tradition in the US is to set aside reserves and preclude almost all human activities on them.  However, the tradition in China is much more typical of nature reserves worldwide, and is practiced in the US by organizations such as the Nature Conservancy.  I was very interested in talking with people about how they feel they are getting along with the Chinese cranes, as well as watching how the cranes and people interact.   We saw no tourists at either reserve, due to the season and weather, so we cannot really say if they encroach on the cranes’ turf.  However, cranes tend to be shy of people, and the Siberian, hooded, white naped and Eurasian cranes we saw at Poyang Lake were wary of people.  So, the multi use concept per se has not resulted in their having an increased comfort level when people approach.  But the captive bred cranes that had been released at Zhalong were very different, not at all wary (no longer deserving of the name of ‘smart chickens’, actually apt to be killed and eaten as the chickens are.)  

In my opinion, it is in the cranes own best interests to remain as shy as the wild cranes I have seen.  In Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster, he describes illicit meals where he and his translators eat forbidden foods like crane,“ I sampled the pigeon, the snake soup, the muntjac, the crane, the fish, the turtle.  There was something dreadful and depressing about this food, partly because it tasted good and partly because China had so few wild animals.  These creatures were all facing extinction in this country.”  In another chapter, Theroux says, “China seemed a place without wilderness.  The whole country had been made over and deranged by peasant farmers.  There was something unnatural and neurotic in that obsession.  They had found a way to devour the whole country.”  We did see that every patch of ground, even ‘waste’ ground along railroads and road beds, seemed to be planted with vegetables.  However, this was not true on the nature reserves themselves.  On Poyang Hu, farmers grew cotton but only in very limited areas.  On Zhalong, we saw only reeds on the reserve itself, but of course the farmers do harvest these reeds in fall, when the cranes have gone south.

            We interviewed Professor Zhang, an ornithologist from Beijing Normal University who has visited both reserves frequently and sits on the national committee that decides whether or not province level nature reserves should receive “national reserve” designation and funding.  He told us that the reserve management manages ONLY the animals being preserved, not the water and the land associated with the reserve, although the reserve does have boundaries beyond which the naturalists have no authority.  Some reserves, especially Poyang Hu because of its very rare Siberian cranes, have received authority over water levels in lakes during the dry season, but that has been within the last two years.  He said it is a real problem for nature reserves, since everything has to be negotiated with the villagers and economic issues often are the most cogent to the decision makers.   The map on the next page shows the locations of the two sites that we visited. Both areas are part of the Eastern flyway for Siberian cranes according to the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and the World Wildlife Federation. Zhalong is also known for its approximately 350 red-crowned or Japanese cranes.

 Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province was established in 1979.  It is currently 210,000 hectares in size (of which about 23,000 burned this year) and regularly supports over 20,000 waterbirds. It has a complex of permanent and seasonal fresh water wetlands, many of which are full of Phragmites (tall reeds).  The site is owned by the state and collectives.  There is a scientific research site there, with an audio-visual education center. Human uses include reed harvesting for paper production, fishing, and grazing.  Hunting is prohibited. The Wuyu’er River there has increasing industrial pollution (

Wetlands important to cranes in China.  8 is Poyang; 11 is Zhalong.

The second site, Poyang Hu is more Southern and is a smaller reserve (22,400 hectares), established in 1984 and administered locally in Jiangxi Province.  The description of it in the Ramsar database says it is the largest freshwater lake in a near natural condition in China, and supports over 100,000 waterbirds.  Before going, I thought the entire lake was in the reserve, but only about 1/10 of the area is included.  In winter, Poyang hosts about 3000 Siberian cranes, estimated at 95% of the world’s population.  This area has about 60 villages within the reserve.  The activities of villagers   are, “nature conservation, scientific research, tourism, fishing, grazing, and collection of medicinal herbs,”  per Ramsar, but no hunting.  We saw water buffalo grazing, fishing, and collection of Artemisia herbs for eating rather than medicinal uses.  The area was posted with signs saying there was to be no fishing due to the fish breeding season, but fish were for sale in the farmers’ market and looked very fresh.  No ecotourism was seen, but evidently December and January are the peak months for such tourism.  We were the only non-reserve employees we saw at Poyang Hu, other than graduate student James Burnham who was working on his thesis there. 

Poyang has attempted to increase public awareness of conservation issues.  We saw a childrens’ booklet on cranes they had produced, that the school children we visited had read.  In winter, Poyang Hu becomes many small lakes, ponds, and rivers rather than the huge, 1200 square mile lake it is in the summer months.  The reserve is along the western border of the lake, near the north, and includes 9 of these smaller lakes; in the summer it’s all part of the huge lake and the Wu Cheng village is on an island.  We had read that this area suffers from drainage of ponds to enable fish harvesting, and degradation of the wetlands due to human activities such as tree planting and ‘land reclamation’ from the wetlands.  We heard about the fish harvesting, but didn’t see any evidence of tree-planting.  Dikes to allow reclamation were everywhere. 

In 1998, there was a huge flood of the entire area and many people from smaller villages were relocated to Wu Cheng, a village of about 4000.  Some of these people, according to Jim Burnham, were not pleased to be relocated and place some of the blame on the nature reserve.  We had lunch with peasants in a much smaller village along side the reserve.  They were very interested in birds and animals, had decorated their houses with posters of cranes, other birds, and mammals of the area, and knew when and where they had last seen these creatures.  I was quite interested in the pangolins; the peasants said they had only seen one once or twice.

  A background issue that especially interested me, as a long time watcher of wading birds and conservationist, is whether the Chinese people see any conflicts between their interests and those of the cranes, or whether they revere the birds so much by tradition that they almost automatically respect the need to conserve them.  I would agree with the quote given above from Jim Harris.  In other words, the reverence seems to be in one compartment and everyday life in a different compartment for the people we saw.  They liked the idea of cranes and conservation, but one of the villagers who joined us for lunch rode up on a motor bike with many fish nets loaded on the back, despite the ‘no fishing’ rule.  Earlier, the head man had assured us that they never fish there.  But the children from the school in Wu Cheng did seem a good bit more tuned in to nature, and to the cranes, as I have seen here in the US.

Something I didn’t expect happened to me: I became swept up in the vision the Chinese people seem to have of their future.  I felt in some ways like Alexis de Tocqueville must have felt visiting the US before its leap forward to become a superpower.   Clearly, freedom, equality, and religion-based morality that were highlighted by de Toqueville in his visit to the US in the early 1800’s play little part in the Chinese society today, although their roles are increasing.  I had heard Dai Qing speak a week before I left for the trip, and know very well that free speech is not a reality for Chinese people who might disagree with government plans.  Even at the Pacific Basin conference on environment and economics in China, several of the speakers resonated with this spirit that I was struck by on our trip.  What seemed so similar to what de Tocqueville saw, was that everyone seemed to know that China is on the verge of becoming a super power, and wanted to contribute to his/her maximum to that effort.  This attitude we encountered from the poorest peasants (with a village subsisting on the proceeds of a 10,000Y cotton harvest each year) to well-to-do scientists at universities and the national academy, who were passionately pro-China.  It’s exciting to be in a place where all the finger of progress are pointing the same way.  There is nothing ‘in your face’ about the attitude, it’s just a certainty of their direction and of the ‘getting better every day’ concept for all of the people.  We saw some ambivalence towards Mao, Deng, and others, but we also heard a young graduate student say he had participated in the celebrations honoring Mao and had marched to support China in the very Tian an Men square that had the fatal student demonstrations a few years ago.  A month after our return, Newsweek asked on its cover about China’s direction: will it be the next superpower?  We have no doubt that it will. 

Details of Trip.

             In March, we flew to Shanghai.  During  a day or two to acclimate, we visited Shanghai Museum to see their great collection of classical Chinese ceramics showing crane depictions through the ages, and Yu Gardens which had a good deal of crane art as well.  Then, we took an overnight sleeper train to Nanchang.  We could not take a ferry to the environs of the Poyang Lake Nature Reserve as we had wanted, because there is no longer any ferry service in winter on the lower Chang Jiang or Yangzi River to JiuJiang.  (The ‘touristy’ section of that river is the Three Gorges region upstream of JiuJiang,  and it still has ferries).  We were told the ferries were no longer needed since it was so much faster to go by highway or train.  On the train, we were not able to communicate with our fellow traveler in the same train compartment, who spent almost the whole time dealing in real estate over her cell phone.  However, I was impressed with the similarity between the countryside I saw and backwoods North Carolina, with the same cotton fields and red clay soil.  Construction was obvious everywhere, even in the most rural settings.  Both roads and buildings were being built all along the railroad bed we followed.

            I had received a recommendation from Li Feiwen from the International Crane Foundation, of a hotel near the Nanchang headquarters of the nature reserve.  Due to a misunderstanding of his recommendation by the CITS guide who had met us, we checked into the Lake View Hotel in Nanchang, which is not near anything and is very upscale.  We negotiated with the CITS guide whose taxi had picked us up at the train to take us to Wu Cheng village the next day, and pick us up there in three more days.  I went on the internet in the hotel business center and was dismayed to find no confirmation from Li Feiwen about how to find the nature reserve headquarters; he was out at Cao Hai reserve banding black necked cranes and had not had time to send more information.  Luckily, I had the cell phone number for the graduate student Jim Burnham.  When I called him, he offered to meet us for lunch and put us in the picture.  We taxied to his hotel (which was the place Li had meant us to stay, it turned out) and walked about ½ mile to a very good restaurant for lunch.  One of our dishes was the wild Artemisia that we later saw being harvested; we really enjoyed its taste.  Jim told us that we needed to arrange everything at Poyang Hu with the reserve people, and offered to take us along when he went there that afternoon on his own business.  We were very pleased to go with him.  As it turned out, the supposed English speaking reserve employees were also very pleased to have him translate for us!  We were able to arrange for a translator, Irving Wang, who was currently at TV reporter, but who had begun his employment career as a naturalist at Poyang Hu Nature Reserve.  He had made the video that was still being sold by the reserve, on the Siberian cranes, which we saw on the big screen at the reserve and also purchased.  We paid the reserve headquarters for our stay at WuCheng and for Irving’s and also for our admission to the reserve each day, but decided to arrange for jeeps, boats, and food on a more ad hoc basis, depending on whether there were cranes to see, etc.  Feiswen had arranged through the reserve with a school at Wu Cheng to have us visit there, give them pictures drawn by American school children, and take back to California pictures the children there would draw.  He had also told the reserve in Chinese that we needed to talk with peasants, and that we needed a knowledgeable translator, which turned out to be really helpful. 

When we planned the trip, we thought that in mid March, most of the cranes would still be at Poyang although some of them might have started North for summer.  We took a hair raising taxi ride out to the reserve.  Matthiessen describes the same ride as follows, “The last stretch of track follows a high red dike of washouts, ruts, and pits; in heavy rain, this dike road is not passable, since even a vehicle with four-wheel drive toiling at four miles an hour would slide off it.  The dike crosses the dry bed of a large lake for several miles before rising onto a peninsula that during monsoon…becomes an island… Inevitably there is a village at the end of the peninsula, a hive of some three thousand souls--Wu Cheng.”  Unfortunately, it had just rained when we went over this road, and we are very lucky to have made it.  We also had a similar experience of dinner, described by Matthiessen in this way, “Though we got to supper in our warmest clothing, we are in high spirits, glad that the battering ride is over and pleasantly surprised by bowls of fine country cooking—white turnip soup, hot spicy buffalo, delicious gummy rice, “mock goose” (bean curd), bamboo shoots, and bitter greens.”  We found the food at both sites on this nature reserve was really delicious. 

When we first arrived, Jim and also Mr. Hao, the Wu Cheng reserve manager, told Irving that the cranes were gone; none remained.  For the first few days, we walked around the Wu Cheng village watching people and looking at its historical and modern buildings.   During this time, Mr. Hao took us to the Wu Cheng Primary School, where a teacher, Liu Ximai, had selected 15 students from several 6th grades to meet with us.  I presented some information about cranes, which Irving translated, and gave the students the pictures from the California class.  Ms Liu said each of them could have one of the pictures to keep.  They sat down to draw crane pictures for me to take back to California.  Only about 5 had colored pencils, so after a while they started passing them around so others could color the pictures.  Ms. Liu said most could not afford to buy these.  We let people ask questions, and one asked if all kids in California want to work in Silicon Valley when they grow up!   We took pictures of the kids making drawings, and of the whole class at the end.  They made the peace sign for the photograph, perhaps knowing that cranes are a symbol of peace.  Finally, they embarrassed me by asking me to autograph the pictures we had brought from California!

Another day, we went to a nearby village of some 50 people by jeep.  We talked with the people there for several hours, and we had lunch.  We found that they were very dependent on the cotton crop yearly, said they did not fish, and had their houses decorated with wildlife posters.  In addition to pointing out the cranes on their posted pictures, they seemed to know other animals on the posters.  I pointed out the pangolin and a couple of others, and they recalled when and where they had seen each one.  Although they said they didn’t fish, we were joined for lunch by a young man who rode up on a motorcycle with about 5 fishing nets on the back!  After lunch, the wife of the village head man asked if I was stiff.  When I said yes, she offered me a distilled rice wine mixture with wolfberries, that she said would fix me up.  I was feeling no pain after a cup of that!  When we were about to leave, she made me a whole bottle to take along!

After several days at Wu Cheng, we went to DaQingChu by boat. The boat was the same type of small boat used by many of the peasant fishermen along the Gan River, with a motor in back and a metal hood of sorts looped over the center, along with a covered prow.  We hoped to spot some cranes along the way, but only saw egrets and herons.   Many sand-carrying barges were going north along the Gan River; they often seemed to be run by couples who lived on board.  Laundry was washed in the river and hung out to dry on poles.  We could see people cooking in outdoor kitchens on the barges too.     We arrived at the DaQingChu area and were met by a jeep, which took us to another binguan operated by the reserve, a big two story blue building with a pointed tower on top.  We found that no one could turn on the heat in our rooms (we had to take separate rooms at this inn) because the keys to the heaters were locked into a cupboard and the person with a key would not arrive for several hours.  So, the reserve workers offered to borrow some spotting scopes and take us out to look in the grasslands for cranes.  They said although Jim Harris of ICF had seen cranes there several days before, they had probably flown north, so not to get our hopes up.  But, we ate a lovely lunch there and piled into the jeep to check out the local birds. 

            Out on the grasslands, the jeep stopped and we got out to look.  The reserve people said that there were cranes but no Siberian cranes.  They were about to pack up again, but Mike and I wanted to see the hooded cranes and the Eurasian cranes; we had never seen them before!  After looking our fill, we clambered back into the jeep and took off deeper into the diked reclamed grassland, towards the main body of the Poyang Lake, a part not included in the nature reserve itself.  We stopped again.  They said, ‘Don’t get out until we see if there are any cranes.”  After a couple of minutes of scanning, they said, “OK, there are Sibes, but there are only about 8 of them.”  Having been promised none, eight sounded like a bonanza to us, so we leaped from the jeep and took up binoculars.  Mike said, “Wow, more are flying in!”  Sure enough, there were about 20 by the time he looked, and that was just the start.  Over the next 30 minutes or so, many more flew in, showing black wing tips clearly in flight and looking pure white as soon as they landed.  Finally, Mr Wu, the Deputy Director of the whole reserve, and the other  reserve people estimated the number at over 1000!  They were not very close to us, but were along the shore line of Poyang Lake proper, off the reserve itself.  We also saw a few white naped cranes mixed among them.  The reserve staff members said if we tried to go closer, the cranes would leave.  We saw a few spooked by someone walking near them somewhat later, so they were probably right.  “Smart chicken” is a fair name for these cranes!  It was very exciting to see so many, since it is likely we saw ½ to 1/3 of the whole world population of this rare species.  Matthiesen had also experienced being told there would be no cranes, only to see all four species at Poyang himself along with his friend Victor Emmanuel.  He said, “I have never experienced such a reversal of fortune. Despite ‘the worst drought in a hundred years,’ we have seen all four of Poyang’s cranes in a single day.  Yet at the bottom of our contentment lies the inevitable sense of sadness and foreboding that one feels about the fate of beautiful rare creatures whose last habitats and populations are disappearing to make room for ever more numbers of our own species.”  We too had seen all four species in one day, despite being forewarned that likely none were there, and felt foreboding that perhaps the big dam upstream on the Yangtze might be going to impact the stability of the home of these magnificent birds.  We can only hope that those taking note of their welfare can forestall any bad effects from human endeavors.  Our sense is that those working on the reserve were carefully censusing birds and animals and cared a lot about their welfare.

             After completing our visits to Poyang Lake nature reserve, we returned to a hotel in Nanchang to take a hot shower and do our laundry, and then flew to Beijing.  In Beijing, we came under translational help from Ying Wang, a graduate student of one of my friends from the Chinese National Academy, Li Huang.  We visited the Forbidden City and saw crane-related art work including the two most famous crane statues in the world.  Outside the Hall of Supreme Harmony are two bronze cranes on the high terrace that originally guarded the emperor’s throne; when we were there, they were surrounded by some minority people performing their songs and dances for the crowds much of the time.  These cranes and others at the Imperial Palace are symbols of long life and good fortune.  We also visited the stunningly beautiful, enormous Great Wall and the Summer Palace, hoping that as we saw the sights, the migrating cranes were wending their way North to Zhalong.  Li Huang was meanwhile in Europe for a scientific meeting; we planned to see him and his family when we returned from Zhalong. 

We called Professor Zhang, an ornithologist from Beijing Normal University whom I had contacted via the internet, and invited him to come to our hotel for a talk.  We sat down with him and heard all about the politics of nature reserves, including how they jockey for position in trying to be designated as national reserves.  This designation provides a big financial boost.  He serves on a committee that reviews these applications, and said that the reserves have a big problem in that they don’t have authority over the resources on the reserves, but only over the birds/animals that are being conserved.  The concept of ecosystem conservation is not really in vogue there yet, although he hopes it will become so.  He thinks multi purpose nature reserves are the only possibility for China, so hopes very much that they can find ways to actually conserve the birds and animals, in spite of difficulties.  Professor Zhang told us that Zhalong was burning; he still encouraged us to go since he thought we could see the captive bred cranes at least.  He said that he anticipated that no wild cranes had come North yet, since the winter was so long this year, but if they had they would have gone to the reserve at Xinjiang rather than the burning Zhalong.

            From Beijing, we flew to Harbin,  and immediately took a train onwards into Northern Manchuria, on the same latitude as Siberia, to Qiqihar, which is the city nearest to Zhalong Nature Reserve.  We had hoped to stay at the guest house actually on the reserve; the Lonely Planet guide suggested that it is open year round and very rarely has more than a few guests except in summer.  However, language difficulties almost overcame us in Qiqihar.  We were expecting to be met by a CITS English speaking guide, from whom we could find out how to get to Zhalong.  No one met us, and after some time freezing at the train station, we took a taxi to the hotel named in pinyin on our plan sheet.  We were able to stay at that cheap hotel, the Civil Aviation or Min Hang Hotel in Qiqihar, as listed on our reservation, but it had no record of our reservation and no one there spoke English.  Although everyone was nice and tried to be helpful to us, we had great difficulties.  I had called our contact in Beijing CITS to ask what had happened.  She was on vacation in QingDao, but I was able to talk with her via her cell phone and she said she would help and would call us back with arrangements. We sat in our room all morning and got no calls.  Then Mike noticed that the phone said we had received 15 calls!  We were utterly unable to explain this problem to the front desk, but they sent someone upstairs to help us with the phone.  What she did, though, was to show us how to make an outgoing call! 

We had tried to ask about Zhalong, and received “Yes” and bright smiles in return.  After some thought, we decided to get a train back to Harbin the next day if we could, since the reserve was still burning according to the newspapers, and we couldn’t seem to find a way to get there.  So, we went to the travel center on the second floor.  I asked them about the train tickets, and they kept pointing down.  Finally, I realized they were telling me to ask on the first floor; they only dealt with airline tickets.  So, we went down to the business center.  I was very happy that they understood what I was asking for and told me the price, then said the tickets would be delivered to our room in about an hour.  I guess they were not SURE they understood us, because about 10 minutes later, someone came to our door and asked us the date we wanted the tickets for; it turned out to be Easter and they weren’t sure we really meant to go then, but we did.  Eventually, a local CITS guide did come at about 3:30 PM.  He apologized in fluent English, gave us a basket of fruit, and sat down to talk.  Finally he asked us, “Why did you come to Qiqihar?”  We told him we were interested in Zhalong, but evidently couldn’t go there since our train was at 10 the next morning.  He said, “Why not?”  So we went down, got a taxi, and went to Zhalong right then! 

There was smoke on the horizon when we got near the reserve, but the ticket taker was still in the booth and we bought tickets and entered.  There were many buildings, but we saw only one person feeding/watering the cranes and most buildings were locked up.  There were about 5 photographers who were waiting for sunset trying to get the ‘crane on setting sun’ shot, or if not, have a sun with which to image process the shot!  They had already set up their spotting scope/camera outfits and were chatting away with no thought for the birds.  We didn’t find any of the reserve management, so were not able to talk with them about captive breeding.  But, quite a few young birds were there in cages and some red crowned cranes were free but close by, so we decided they had to be the captive bred birds that had been let free to see how they would fare.  They evidently didn’t migrate with the wild birds, and were not shy of people.  Signs said that they could be hostile, so evidently they are able to defend themselves up to a point.  I had talked with Melinda Menzies-Herrold before my trip, about her experiences at Zhalong.  She is a sociologist interested in cooperative management of nature reserves, and had visited Zhalong about 15 years ago.  She told me that one of the captive bred cranes actually attacked her, but luckily only hit her boots with his beak.  These birds are not ‘smart chickens’ though; a determined person could catch one for dinner as far as I could see.  It was great for Mike to have them free there, though, since he got some spectacular close up pictures of cranes.

            At Zhalong in 2001 there had been a huge fire; at one time it was thought that the cranes would not return, but they did. In this year’s fire, even more of the reserve has burned.  This year, the predictions that they will not return have also arisen in news articles.  We saw the blaze as smoke at several sites on the horizon, and once on the way back to Qiqihar in the taxi, we drove past a fire line, but it was so low to the ground it didn’t seem to endanger passing traffic.  I had taken along some pictures of the brush fires we had here in Claremont last year from the Claremont newspaper, but was not able to talk with people about them.  However, the competition for resources issue was likely behind the fire itself, since the farmers harvest the reeds and think that the fire will increase their harvest.  It has been illegal to burn the reserve or environs for 2 years, but everyone seems to think the farmers set the fire.  No one was caught in the act, so no one was punished.   

Upon leaving Qiqihar, we returned to Harbin.  There we looked at Russian influences and visited a Confucian temple and a Buddhist temple that emphasizes the god/goddess of mercy.  We also went up in the Dragon Tower, a truly scary experience.  And, we went to a former Russian orthodox cathedral which is now a museum.  In it, religious objects abound, but there are also pictures of movie stars who came there between the world wars when it was a ‘hot’ tourist spot. 

             We flew back to Beijing where my friend Li Huang had invited us for dinner with his family.   We were able to see his very luxurious apartment, which he bought at a discount since it’s in a building that was constructed by the national academy where he works.  They took us out to a restaurant that specialized in pancakes, but had many other very tasty dishes.  It was great to see his daughter and son, who had been with him and his wife when they lived here in Claremont and he was a professor at Pomona.  His son had had a very serious cancer as a small child here, and it was wonderful to see how fully he has recovered from this experience.   Li also took us to visit his laboratory, which is currently in a run down and dingy old building, but is equipped with a lot of state of the art microbiological and molecular biological equipment.  He says a new building is under construction for them.  I talked informally with his graduate students, including Ying who had been our translator earlier, about my laboratory and its undergraduate research, but didn’t give a formal talk.  Li and Ying took us shopping for presents, and then it was time to pack for the trip back.  It was a very intense three weeks, and a truly unforgettable experience that we regard as the trip of a life time.  Thank you Avery Foundation!


Hooded cranes at Poyang Lake Reserve and Wu Cheng student’s drawing