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China Syndrome

February 22, 2008

New I and the Bird up at Living the Scientific Life.

The environmental activist in all of us would do well to heed the ecological minefield that is the world’s most populace country. Of course I speak of China, and it’s phenomenal, but rapidly depleting, natural resources.

The country is home to over 1300 species of birds, of which an astounding 53 are endemic. Twelve of those endemics are representatives of Asia’s remarkable pheasant family, including such exotic names as Blue-eared and Golden Pheasants, Chinese Monal and Cabot’s Tragopan. But perhaps the birds that most call to mind exotic eastern cultures are the cranes, and for no less than eight species, China provides the wintering grounds for these globally threatened species.

But the unceasing development in that nation has shrunk that wintering habitat into small, crucially important pockets of wetlands. All with any passing knowledge of habitat fragmentation and the host of issues inherent in those too frequent scenarios realize what can happen when one freak occurrence manages to squarely hit the target. For you, I pass on this sad bit of news. From the article:

About 95 percent of the world’s white cranes, half of the white-naped cranes and 60 percent of swan geese are believed to migrate to a nature reserve at Poyang Lake each year in Jiangxi province, Xinhua news agency said.

The cranes disappeared in the brutal snowstorms that have hit the area. Of 140,000, only 40,000 have been accounted for. The crisis could be averted had the birds changed course and ended up somewhere else, but the area still available for them is shrinking fast. All the more reason that preservation of habitat and stemming of development is the most important issue facing bird conservation today. No matter what befalls them, birds have the ability to travel long distances to take advantage of the proper environs, it’s one of the most amazing things about them. But if the conditions aren’t right, well, they’re in big trouble.

China especially is feeling the pinch between the forces of their growing economy and their last remaining wild places. Hopefully this isn’t an omen of things to come.

  1. Patrick Belardo permalink
    February 22, 2008 10:50 am

    I find the Asian cultures incredibly interesting, especially Chinese and Japanese. But in regards to environmental awareness, they seem lightyears behind everyone. Natural medicines, supplements, and “delicacies” that involve the senseless killing of endangered species (shark fin soup, rhino horns, etc.) are part of their traditions but have little to no grounding in science and sensibility. These ignorances probably parallel how they manage their land, water, etc. There’s some serious educational needs there.

  2. February 22, 2008 12:17 pm


    I agree, it’s amazing to me that a culture that spawned such nature intensive philosophies as Taoism and Bhuddism has run head long into the development boom that has denegrated so much of their unique habitats and species.

    The temperate deciduous and tropical rain forests of the nation are almost completely gone, river ecosystems are ravaged by enormous dams and raw sewage, and the air quality that is so bad in the cities is spreading to more rural area.

    The environmental movement has yet to really catch on there. There is some evidence that is changing, but it looks to be too late for some many species.

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