People Fight Freeze As Temperatures Plummet In Beijing And Northern China

At dew time on Saturday morning (Jan. 23), the temperature in Beijing plummeted to -33 C while in the afternoon on the same day it reached   -28 C (including the wind-chill factor generated by a strong 30-miles west/north-west wind), the lowest in almost three decades.

As China Daily mentioned in their edition of the same day, teams of outdoor workers are braving falling temperatures, howling winds and snowstorms affecting many areas of China to keep vital services running, while being careful about the challenging conditions in which they are working.

According to a report by the National Meteorological Center, on cold and windy days when temperatures fall below -30 C, there is the risk of frostbite if people stay outdoors for more than 10 minutes. Soldiers patrolling the country’s northern border with Russia said that they never experienced such biting winds as in recent days when the temperature dropped to a record low. In Mohe, China’s northernmost city in Heilongjiang province, the cold front has lowered the temperature to -43 C, making daily patrols along part of the Heilongjiang River, which forms the border, “like walking against knives because of the howling wind”.

Some workers are braving the icy conditions to protect their livelihoods. Fishermen in Dalian, Liaoning province, have moored their vessels to prepare for expanding sea ice in coming days.

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Fishing boats are left frozen in the ice in Dalian, Liaoning province, on Thursday. Photos for China Daily by Lyu Wenzheng.

Agricultural authorities have warned farmers to add organic fertilizers to keep crops and vegetables from being damaged by frost and to reinforce plastic greenhouses. Nonetheless, farmers say heavy losses are inevitable and a farmer in central China’s Hunan province expects only ten percent of his crops to survive.

The cold front brought snowstorms across northern and southern areas on Friday, affecting 90 percent of the country, and expected to persist in eastern and central areas and affect parts of Shanghai and Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Hunan provinces.

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Local fishermen walk on the frozen sea in Lianyungang, East China’s Jiangsu province, Jan 19, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua].

Highways in at least 12 provinces and municipalities were closed and flights disrupted amid blizzards and gales. Many parts of China are forecast to experience their lowest temperatures in decades during the weekend.

On a lighter note, it appears that snow does not bother pandas in Hubei province as per the below shot taken in Wuhan on January 21st.

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A panda in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei province, on Thursday Jan. 21 [Photo by Jin Siliu/Asianewsphoto]

 

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The Milu: A Success Story

2015 marks the 30th Anniversary of the return of the Pere David’s Deer (Milu) to China which brought me to the Middle Kingdom in 1984. It is an occasion to celebrate one of the earliest successful conservation programs in the world that saw the Bedford Family save the Milu from extinction by collecting all remaining animals in the world (only 18 in total) in the early 20th century on their Woburn Abbey Estate in the United Kingdom.

Since their return, Milu thrive in China and, in addition to nature reserves, zoos and wildlife parks across the country, three free living populations are established in Hubei and Hunan provinces.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation celebrated the Milu return in Beijing during the UN Biodiversity Day on May 22nd, 2015.

 (From left to right): Mr. Song Shixiao, former Director of Milu Ecological Research Centre, Nan Haizi Milu Park; Professor Zhang Zuoshuang,Vice Board Chairman, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBC&GDF); Mr. Hu Deping, President, (CBC&GDF); Maria Boyd; Professor Hu Zhao Guang, Vice President, (CBC&GDF) and  Academician Jin Jian Ming (CBC&GDF).


(From left to right): Mr. Song Shixiao, former Director of Milu Ecological Research Centre, Nan Haizi Milu Park; Professor Zhang Zuoshuang,Vice Board Chairman, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBC&GDF); Mr. Hu Deping, President, (CBC&GDF); Maria Boyd; Professor Hu Zhao Guang, Vice President, (CBC&GDF) and
Academician Jin Jian Ming (CBC&GDF).

Later this year, in mid-November, the first ‘International Symposium on the Conservation, Protection and Management of Milu and Biodiversity in China’ will take place in Beijing.

It will be co-organized by the Beijing Milu Ecological Research Center (Milu Park at Nan Haizi) and the Woburn Abbey Deer Park. The 15th Duke of Bedford who flew to Beijing with the first batch of Milu in 1985 will come to China on this occasion and it will be a great opportunity for the original team that handled the reintroduction to share old memories and celebrate their amazing achievement.

I was recently interviewed by City Weekend, one of the leading english-language publications in Beijing, about the reintroduction and how it all happened. I wish you an enjoyable read!

CW Page 1 - Jun 2015

CW Page 2 - Jun 2015

The Milu: Part 3 – The Reintroduction To China December 1984 – July 1985

The story of The Milu continues from Part 2 (please click here to read).

On December 10th, 1984, I was asked by professor Wang Zongyi to accompany a small group of scientists to the Great Hall of the People to meet Vice Premier Li Peng who was overlooking the reintroduction project for the Central Government. It was my first visit to the Great Hall of the People that had been built 25 years earlier to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of “new” China in 1959. I was very excited (I was incidentally the only foreigner in attendance) as we had been waiting for several months and were expecting to get final approval from the re-introduction during this official meeting.

Cover page of Zhongguo Huanjing Bao dated December 11, 1984 covering the meeting held the day before at the Great Hall of the People.

Cover page of Zhongguo Huanjing Bao dated December 11, 1984 covering the meeting held the day before at the Great Hall of the People.

Our small party was quickly whisked to a traditional VIP room with a U-shape set up of large armchairs. These rooms were (and are still) used for formal meetings between two delegations. The heads of both delegations sit next to each other and their respective delegations are seated according to their ranking, facing each other. The meeting was very brief and confirmed that part of the land where the Imperial Hunting Park in Nan Haizi used to be located (which had become part of the Red Star Sino-North Korea Friendship Peoples’ Commune after 1949) was going to be allocated to the re-introduction project. The approval of the Central Government was the last hurdle to pass in order for the project to materialize.

Soon after, farm workers started working on the demolition of a pig farm and a couple of tree nurseries. Simultaneously, grass was planted, nine fresh water wells were dug and a small lake cleaned up. The exact boundary of the new Milu Park was also finalized and a 2.5-meter high wall had to be built.

Nan Haizi Milu Park location.

Nan Haizi Milu Park location.

Confirmed boundary of the Milu Park at Nan Haizi.

Confirmed boundary of the Milu Park at Nan Haizi.

One day, I was very surprised to ‘discover’ around 400 People’s Liberation Army soldiers starting the construction of the wall! It took them 100 days to finish the 2.2-mile long wall. The scene was finally set for the homecoming of the Milu. In the meantime, following the green light given by Vice Premier Li Peng, Lord Tavistock directed the head deer keeper at the Woburn Deer Park to catch about 40 Milu to place them in quarantine. They would be the first batch of animals to return to China in late August 1985.

Construction of the wall at Nai HaiziConstruction of the wall at Nanhaizi Milu Park

A draft agreement specifying the terms of partnership between the Marquess of Tavistock and the Milu Reintroduction Group of the People’s Republic of China was established and signed on February 27th, 1985 leading the way for the final arrangements to take place. On the Chinese side, several agencies at State and Beijing Municipal levels were involved in the reintroduction including the National Environmental Protection Agency, the Chinese Society of Environmental Science, the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the Chinese Society of Zoology, and the Beijing Museum of Natural History.

It would take four more months to have the final agreement finalized. It was signed on July 17th, 1985 both in the UK and in China simultaneously.

Lord Tavistock and the Chinese Ambassador to the UK signing the Reintroduction Agreement on July 17th, 1985 at the China Embassy in London.

Lord Tavistock and the Chinese Ambassador to the UK signing the Reintroduction Agreement on July 17th, 1985 at the China Embassy in London.

Cover of the original signed agreement between “The Milu Reintroduction Group of the People’s Republic of China” and the “Marquess of Tavistock”.

Cover of the original signed agreement between “The Milu Reintroduction Group of the People’s Republic of China” and the “Marquess of Tavistock”.

The pledge to return the Milu to China made by Lord Tavistock when he was 13 years old had become a reality!

 

 

 

The Milu: Part 2 – Summer 1984

Further to my first post on The Milu (please click here to read), here is the continuing story….. 

In the early 1980s, The Chinese government put two animals on their list of top endangered species to save: the Panda and the Milu deer. From that time, and without any doubt, the most loved and the most money-spinning animal in China was, and remains today, the Panda.

In 1984, I befriended an animal activist whom I nicknamed “Miss Panda”. One day, she took me to meet a famous Chinese painter, Mr. Wu Zouren who just finished a series of Panda paintings. He had created one collection of 1,000 paintings – each numbered and autographed, as it was believed that there were only 1000 Pandas left in the wild.

Despite all my efforts, and no matter how hard many scientists, researchers and I tried, the lovable Milu remained a distant second. No artist ever created a collection of Milu paintings.

And for the 2008 Olympics, the Milu was not used as a mascot despite the fact that it was successfully reintroduced in Beijing after a hiatus of some 85 years in China.

In the West, we know the Milu as Pere David’s deer, named after the famous French Lazarist missionary, Pere Armand David, who discovered it while looking over the high walls surrounding the Imperial Hunting Park at Nan Haizi. Pere David was born in a small town in French Pyrenees called Espelette (the famous Espelette peppers come from there).

Pere Armand David

Pere Armand David

The story began in China in 1864 when, on one of Pere David’s frequent trips out of Beijing, he saw, as he described it in his diary, an animal resembling a deer but with strange features. It is interesting to note that Pere David’s interest in zoology and botany was such that he enriched the flora and fauna with some 58 species of birds, some 100 species of insects and several species of mammals including the Panda, the Golden Monkey and the deer that now bears his name.

He mentioned the discovery of this “strange” looking animal to the Director of the Natural History Museum in Paris. When his official request to collect samples failed, he resorted to a stratagem.

In his diary he penned: “Luckily, I know some Tartar soldiers who are going to do guard duty in this park and I am sure that I shall get hold of a few skins”. Sure enough, he got soon thereafter, some skins and bones of a male and a female.

As soon as he was able to, he sent these findings to Paris where the Director of the Natural History Museum, Mr. Alphonse Milne-Edwards, named the deer in honour of the French missionary, Pere David’s deer.

In China, one of the names given to this deer is “si bu xiang” (or the “four un-alikes”) as it has the antlers of a deer, neck of a camel, hooves of a cow and tail of a donkey. Another name is Milu, meaning deer that lives in swampy areas. It is almost certain that at the time of discovery of the Milu for western science, the deer had been extinct for some 1500 years in the wild. The last herd of approximately 120 animals lived only in the Imperial Hunting Park at Nan Haizi.

According to ancient legends, great things are foretold when a white Milu is in a herd. But it is said that when a pregnant lady sees the Milu the child may be born with four eyes.

There are many such legends ……… As a child, Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty was so impressed by a spectacular set of Milu antlers he saw at the Palace Armoury (shot apparently by his grandfather), that he later demanded to know where these antlers came from. He was amazed to hear that they came from his own Hunting Park at Nan Haizi and he was so moved that he inscribed on one of the antlers the deer’s antler cycle.

In 1894, the river that ran through the Park flooded. The walls around the park were damaged and the deer escaped to the surrounding countryside. It is believed that, by the turn of the century, none had survived.

However, there were a few specimens left in zoological gardens in Europe. Herbrand, the 11th Duke of Bedford, heard about the fate of the Milu in China from his animal purveyor, Mr. Hagenbaeck. He instructed him to buy all the deer spread around Europe and bring them to his estate at Woburn Abbey. Thus the remaining 18 Milu were released on some 3000 acres of wooded grassland with scattered lakes at Woburn Abbey Park.

Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford

Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford

Herbrand and his family later managed a successful captive breeding program for the species over several decades saving the Milu from extinction. Under the watchful eyes of the 11th, 12th and 13th Dukes of Bedford, and then the Marquess of Tavistock (who later became the 14th Duke of Bedford), a large herd of Milu was roaming freely at the Woburn Deer Park, 45 miles north of London.

Milu at Woburn Abbey

Milu at Woburn Abbey

In 1981-82, Lord Tavistock responded positively to preliminary enquiries from the Chinese government about the possible reintroduction of the Milu back to its homeland. This is how I came into the picture.  At that time, I was studying animal behaviour and ecology at Oxford University focusing on the Pere David Deer at the Woburn Abbey Deer Park.

I first became interested in deer while living with my family in Slovakia in the wild Carpatian Mountains where my father was Director of a Research Center. The station was in the middle of “nowhere” and I used to watch wild deer coming out of the forest to feed on alfalfa that was grown for rabbits. Every evening in the late spring, summer and early autumn, I used to go with the night watchman, whom we called ‘dedko Vidovic’ (grandfather Vidovic) to graze the goats and, during these evenings, he told me countless stories about deer and other wild animals.

I remember one evening he told me that the deer come out of the forest early morning, around four o’clock and graze in the field. I immediately asked him to wake me up at 4 am the following morning but “forget” to mention this to my parents when I returned home. True to his promise, dedko climbed to the first floor of the building where we lived banging on empty metallic drums to wake me up. My father jumped out of bed not knowing what happened asking dedko whether anything bad had happened. Dedko simply said that he just came to wake me up to see the deer grazing.

Before anyone could say no, I was dressed and out we went. We slowly and quietly walked to be closer to the deer. Dedko had a thermos bottle of warm tea, and thus we sat down behind a bush watching these magnificent deer as they grazed. Dedko was supposed to beat the metallic drum to scare them so they would not eat all the alfalfa but they were so spectacular that I begged him to let them feed.

Back to 1983-84: After successful initial contacts between the Chinese Government and the Bedford family, unforeseen difficulties from the British side had to be ironed out for things to proceed. Indeed, the British Government and a large international conservation organisation were keen to handle the reintroduction themselves.

Marquess of Tavistock, later the 14th Duke of Bedford.

Marquess of Tavistock, later the 14th Duke of Bedford.

The Marquess of Tavistock remained firm and said that he would work on this project to fulfil the wish he made several decades earlier when he heard the Milu story for the first time from his grandfather: to bring the Pere David’s Deer to China.

The reintroduction was moving forward.

Me, with the Milu sign given during the signing ceremony of letter of intent,

Me, with the Milu sign given during the signing ceremony of letter of intent.

 

 

The Milu

The Milu at the Hubei Milu Shishou National Nature Reserve, China.

The Milu at the Hubei Milu Shishou National Nature Reserve, China.

Pere David’s deer, also known in China as Milu and as Si Bu Xiang, was discovered for western science by Pere Armand David, a French Lazarist missionary in 1865, in the Imperial Hunting Park south of Beijing.

The Si Bu Xiang means the four un-a-likes, as the deer has the neck of a camel, antlers of a deer, hooves of a cow and the tail of a donkey. Pere David initially thought the animal looked like a reindeer as both species have elongated, wide hooves producing a clicking sound when walking. The most striking features are the long tail, tasselled at the end and reaching up to 80 cm, and the forked antlers each with one backward pointing tine.

The Milu is a unique Chinese endemic species and it is believed to have become extinct in the wild at least 1500 years ago due to overhunting and encroaching on their habitat by humans. In the end of the 19th century, there was only one herd of Milu left in China of approximately 120 individuals at Nan Haizi, the former Imperial Hunting Park south of Beijing. All the animals were eventually killed due to floods and war. This marked the extinction of the species in China.

It was eventually reintroduced in the Middle Kingdom in 1985, thanks to the support of the Duke of Bedford family in the UK where the last remaining herd had been saved from extinction by Herbrand, the 11th Duke of Bedford in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, this is another story.

Stay tuned …..