For more than 30 years, Wang Zhongde, a man in his 70s, has dedicated himself to protecting birds on the islands in Dinghai district, Zhoushan city in east China's Zhejiang Province.
Wang is one of the guardians of Chinese crested terns, an endangered bird species, on the Wuzhishan Islands. Once a paradise for resident and migratory birds, the islands later became uninhabitable for them due to rampant hunting.
Flocks of birds fly in the sky over the Wuzhishan Islands in Dinghai district, Zhoushan city of east China’s Zhejiang Province. (Photo/Yao Feng)
In 1986, when Wang assisted the relevant departments with surveying resources on the islands as an official with the local forestry bureau, they found several hundred seagulls and dozens of egrets there, and a leader asked him to protect them.
Ever since then, he has taken it upon himself to protect the birds on the islands. He raised money to rent a boat, and used it to regularly patrol the islands despite having to navigate stormy waves.
On one occasion, Wang found some fishermen collecting bird’s eggs on the islands and went to stop them, but was punched by a fisherman.
This episode made Wang realize that regulations were necessary to better protect the islands’ birds. He called for efforts to be made to this end, and his work paid off. In May 1988, the Wuzhishan Islands were listed as a district-level nature reserve, which meant that collecting bird’s eggs and bird hunting on the islands were prohibited. The reserve was later upgraded to provincial level.
To publicize these regulations, Wang put up warning notices on the islands, compiled and printed brochures, and distributed them to each household in surrounding villages, and worked to combat any theft of bird eggs. Gradually, illegal bird hunting and bird egg theft vanished.
A Chinese crested tern, a national first-class protected species in China, flies in the sky over the Wuzhishan Islands in Dinghai district, Zhoushan city of east China’s Zhejiang Province. (Photo/Yao Feng)
On June 25, 2008, Wang discovered a pair of black-billed terns among a flock of greater crested terns through his telescope during a patrol. He thought the unfamiliar birds were Chinese crested terns, a bird species he learned about from the book “A Photographic Guide to the Birds of China”, and finally confirmed this view after comparing the photos he had taken of them with those in the book.
It was the first time that the bird species was spotted on the Wuzhishan Islands. Before that, ornithologists in Zhejiang Province had only occasionally found Chinese crested terns on the Jiushan Islands in Xiangshan county, Ningbo city of Zhejiang.
During his patrol trips to the islands, Wang documented information such as the birds numbers, when they arrive on the islands, and when the birds forage, build nests, lay eggs, brood, and migrate. He found that Chinese crested terns and greater crested terns often appear together.
Wang retired at 60 and was re-employed to assist the young bird guardians.
The discovery of Chinese crested terns on the islands received a great deal of attention from relevant departments. Using a remote monitoring system built for the islands, Wang’s main daily task is to check the situation of the islands and birds, especially Chinese crested terns. These days, he does this in front of a computer, instead of by conducting patrols on the islands.
In recent years, research institutes have made various efforts to attract Chinese crested terns and greater crested terns to the Wuzhishan Islands and the Jiushan Islands by putting in place life-sized bird models and simulating bird sounds.
In 2021, Chinese crested terns were listed as a national first-class protected species in China. During last year’ breeding season, over 50 adult Chinese crested terns were discovered on the Wuzhishan Islands - more than ever before.