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5,000 villagers face relocation to save endangered red-crowned cranes

Updated: Aug 26,2014 10:34 AM     Xinhua

Red-crowned cranes attract tourists at Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, in August, 2014. The province is a major breeding place of the bird.[Photo by Chen Hao / For China Daily]

More than 5,000 people are to be relocated to protect a colony of red-crowned cranes, an endangered species with a worldwide population of only 2,000.

The bird is an important symbol in Chinese mythology, representing longevity and immortality. A common image in Chinese art depicts a hermit or reclusive scholar who cultivates bamboo and looks after cranes.

Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang province, which covers 210,000 hectares, is China’s largest artificial breeding center for the cranes and home to 20 percent of the global population.

Local people have traditionally made a living from fishing or selling reeds. However, human activity seriously affects the birds. The reserve’s environment is deteriorating and people are taking the cranes’ food.

In March 2005, fire broke out while farmers were reclaiming land, destroying much of the area’s marshy grassland. Fortunately no birds died.

Red-crowned cranes attract tourists at Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, in August, 2014. The province is a major breeding place of the bird. [Photo by Chen Hao / For China Daily]

According to Wang Wenfeng, a manager at the reserve, the only way to stop the damage to the environment is by moving the villagers out-all 5,396 of them.

More than 160 million yuan ($26 million) has been earmarked for the project, and the search is on for land where the villagers can be resettled.

The first group is due to move out before winter next year. It is not known when the last party will move.

“Several decades ago, the water was clean,” said Jia Huifang from Zhalong. “Fish and birds were abundant. We were not worried about our lives.

“But now the water level has dropped and the fish are gone. Making a living is harder than before.”

Most villagers support the relocation project, but are worried about the future.

“Our children need schools and our parents need hospitals, that is why we want to move,” Jia said. “But what shall we live on if we leave this land?”

The local government’s solution is tourism-it plans to promote bird-watching and build a spa.

Guan Zhixin, the Party chief at Halawusu village, said 4.16 hectares of land have been allocated for more than 900 villagers.

“In three years we will build a spa town that will provide 700-plus jobs,” he said.

Red-crowned cranes attract tourists at Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, in August, 2014. The province is a major breeding place of the bird.[Photo by Chen Hao / For China Daily]

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