Three generations' labor of love to create a paradise for egrets

By Chen Shumin, Sudeshna Sarkar / HICN / Updated: 11:00,22-August-2022

From the six-story bird watching tower, Wu Cong monitors thousands of egrets flying over his village Wuji in Danzhou in Hainan. The 54-year-old considers it the most stirring view in his adult life, reviving memories of his childhood.

Wu Cong’s village Wuji in Nada Town, Danzhou. HAINAN DAILY

Wu lives on the edge of a small grove reigned over by three ancient, towering banyan trees, which have become home to thousands of egrets for years.

An egret amid lush trees in the village of Wuji. HAINAN DAILY

The trees are a witness to three generations of the Wu family protecting egrets for half a century in the village of Wuji.

The bond started in the 1950s, when one day, dozens of egrets landed on the banyan trees. Wu Mingsheng, Wu Cong’s grandfather, was delighted since the birds were considered a lucky omen.

Later, Grandpa Wu organized the first team with his family members and other villagers to protect the birds.

For the generation like Grandpa Wu, living a hardscrabble life, it was a difficult choice to protect these birds, as they impacted the villagers’ earnings. The visitors at times damaged the crops or vegetables farmers grew on their small plots of land.  

So why did Grandpa Wu do to it? It was due to an unexpected rescue act that lifted his spirit. On a typhoon-struck day, he saw a bird fall to the ground. It was an egret and it was still alive. He picked it up gently, put it on his dustpan, and took it back home. After a few days, the bird recovered and was released. But it didn’t disappear. The next year, it returned to the village, alighting on the banyan tree near Grandpa Wu’s house. They could identify it from the red string Grandpa Wu had tied around its little neck.

The lush trees in Wuji in Nada, Danzhou. have become home to thousands of egrets. (Photo courtesy of Danzhou Municipal People’s Government)

When Grandpa Wu eventually relinquished his patrol and protection duties, his son Yingguang took charge. Wu Cong remembers his grandfather and father constantly patrolling the village, telling villagers not to hunt birds and stopping naughty children from stealing eggs from nests. They were never tired of explaining the benefits protecting the egrets would bring to the community and the environment.

When Wu Cong was passed the baton by his father, he began to organize planting more bamboo and banyan trees in empty public spaces in the village, spending money from his own pocket, so that more egret habitats could be created. The village has also erected towers for birdwatchers, the highest being six-storied.

Currently, Wu has moved out of the village to work outside but if the villagers have any problems with the egret conservation, he comes back home to discuss solutions.

It’s a matter of immense satisfaction for him that the birds have found a safe haven in the village. They can build their nests and hatch chicks in safety, thanks to the community’s increasing awareness of the need for bird protection. The Wu family’s egret neighbors are growing, from the first dozen to thousands today.

Flocks of egrets fly over the forest in Wuji, Nada Town, Danzhou. (Photo courtesy of Danzhou Municipal People’s Government)

Wuji has another name. It is known as the “Paradise of Egrets”, attracting many bird-watchers and visitors. With the support of the local government, the village has been developed into an ecological conservation demonstration area. Its other titles are “National Forest Village”, “National Rural Tourism Key Village” and “National Civilized Village”.

It is now the breeding season for egrets. As Wu Cong stands under the ancient tree and listens to the chirps of the newborn egrets, he feels at peace. It also strengthens his resolve to ensure that the village is filled with birdsong for years to come.



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