Siberian crane winning Taiwanese hearts

05/17/2015 10:20 PM
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Photo courtesy of Taiwan Ecological Engineering Development Foundation
Photo courtesy of Taiwan Ecological Engineering Development Foundation

Taipei, May 17 (CNA) A young Siberian white crane that accidentally migrated to a northern Taiwan wetland last December has survived attacks by hawks and stray dogs and has now stolen the hearts of Taiwanese.

The little white crane, about one year old, flew into the Chingshui Wetland in Jinshan, New Taipei on Dec. 13, three days after it stopped on Pengjia Islet north of Keelung.

The presence of the rare bird -- a species that is in danger of extinction -- immediately drew attention as it was the first time in recent memory that a Siberian crane had landed in Taiwan.

The migratory bird is a kind of Gruidae that lives in eastern Russia and migrates to Boyang Lake in central China for the winter. Its usual overwintering habitat has been damaged as a result of the Three Gorges Dam construction along the Yangtze River.

The young bird, which might have lost contact with its flock, has become an attraction because of its graceful dance-like movements as it sunbathes, sleeps, stretches its wings, flies and splashes in pools of water.

Chiu Ming-yuan, deputy executive of Taiwan Ecological Engineering Development Foundation, said many bird watchers and tourists are touched by its beauty and love to share their photos of the bird on the Internet.

The social media buzz about the crane caught the attention of some Australian and Japanese birders, who came to Taiwan to see the bird.

Chiu said the little white crane has been attacked by stray dogs and chased by ospreys (fish hawks) -- challenges it has had to overcome to survive in the world of nature.

Other bird watchers also said that at one point, the crane appeared to be suffering from a lame leg but recovered after eating a lot and resting. When it was able to fly again, many birders broke out in cheers.

Chang Po-chun, a documentary director, said the crane has been joined by an egret in the search for food in the wetland and on nearby farms. "Such interactions would help the crane to grow,” he added.

In addition to fleeing from natural enemies, the crane has had to deal with the unintentional intrusion of a TV crew that was shooting a drama scene, which included an ambulance with a screaming siren that scared away the bird.

Lee Wan-chu, a local police officer, said the team has been fined NT$1,500 (US$50) for blocking traffic and shooting scenes near animal-protection areas without permit.

Some animal lovers have protested to the TV company. The son of the owner of farm where the shooting took place declared the entire TV company persona non grata.

In the wake of the disturbances by the TV crew, Chiu said many school children would form a chain to protect the crane, even when it rains.

The human protection chain started after the bird "got back home" the following day, at noon.

Associate Professor Ting Tzung-su of National Taiwan University's department of forestry and natural resources, a well-known ornithologist, has shared information with bird experts in Russia, China and the United States about the Siberian crane's life in Taiwan.

As the crane has got used to life in northern Taiwan, security guards employed by the Forestry Bureau under the Council of Agriculture (COA) have shortened their "duty time" to eight hours a day -- a protection measure that is likely to be continued until it grows up.

Legislator Lee Ching-hua of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) has urged the COA to continue its protection of the bird and Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji responded by saying he would love to discuss the proposal in the hope the bird will be able to "live an independent life."

Chang's foundation and other wild-life protection groups are calling on bird lovers to give the crane a safe haven to make possible a happy encounter between the rare bird and humans.

"It's our duty as citizens of the planet to ensure our guest will enjoy another winter here safely so it will be able to rejoin its flock and fly back to the north and have its own offspring," said Chang.

(By Chiang Pei-ling and S.C. Chang)

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