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



During the overall Spring Festival holiday period known as ‘chunyun’, the transportation sector in China ramps up to maximum capacity to manage 40 days of heavy demand. It started on February 4 and will run until March 16 to allow many millions of people to make it home and spend their only yearly holiday with their family before returning back to urban centers where they work during the rest of the year.

This annual travel rush may be the largest recurrent human migration in the world. During the travel peak last year, Chinese passengers made more than 3.6 billion trips. Among them, about 3.3 billion were made by road, 266 million by rail, 44 million by air, 42 million by ship and a few ….. on foot.

Indeed, freezing rain and fog recently shut down Leigong Mountain’s highway in Guizhou province’s Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture ahead of China’s biggest annual celebration. The closure forced people returning to Yongle county and Datang village to hike 20 kilometers on the slick road. Some hauled luggage and festival foods – even a live pig dangling from a bamboo yoke. The trek took about five hours but they all made it home!



Photos by Chen Peiliang for China Daily

 This year, more than one million trips were made via 12,500 airline flights on February 4, while the China Railway Corp, operator of the country’s trains, said it handled 6 million trips on the same day and they expect about 289 million trips will be made this year, 26 million more than last year.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China forecast that more than 47 million trips will be made by air this year, and it has arranged for Chinese airlines to add 8,740 domestic flights and 3,052 international flights to deal with the passenger surge.

Peking Duck

Peking Duck oven at Xiao Wang Fu copy

The Origin of Peking Duck

Peking Duck is a ‘must-try’ specialty for visitors to Beijing and to other places in China for this matter. There has been talk that China will try to enlist this dish and other Chinese specialities on UNESCO’s Global Intangible Cultural Heritage List in the years to come, which so far only includes a few culinary items, among them ‘French haute cuisine’.

Little do people know that this dish actually originated in Nanjing (the South Capital of China for many dynasties in Jiangsu Province) as revealed in a museum that opened earlier this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the ‘Quanjude Restaurant’, once recognized as the best Peking Duck restaurant in China.

As the story goes, Peking Duck was first baked in the Imperial court kitchens of Nanjing and the dish only came to Beijing when the Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor moved his seat north in the 15th century. In 1864, when Quanjude was established, the owner apparently employed some chefs who had worked in the Imperial Palace. They used the same ‘hanging up technique’ to roast the duck in a clay oven with hardwood from peach or pear trees. They also kept the Imperial way of carving the duck at the table, showcasing their slicing skills in what is, to this date, a veritable ‘tour de force’.

Duck diplomacy

According to Quanjude, which boasts of having sold 196 million ducks around the world, Peking Duck has played its part in Chinese international relations. Its chefs used to accompany Chinese diplomatic missions overseas and the dish used to be served during official banquets.

Closer to us, it is said that former Premier Zhou Enlai once mentioned that ‘Ping-Pong diplomacy’, ‘Maotai diplomacy’ and ‘Roast Duck diplomacy’ were three great manoeuvres in the arsenal of Chinese diplomacy. Incidentally, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, during their landmark visit to China in 1972, were served this dish at the Great Hall of the People.

Serving Peking Duck

Peking duck is prized for its thin, crisp skin, and lean meat. To get there, the process is quite brutal. Fattened ducks are slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and rinsed thoroughly with water. Then air is pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fat so the fat can easily melt during the cooking process.

The duck is then soaked in boiling water for a short while before it is hung up to dry. While it is hung, it is glazed with a layer of maltose syrup/sugary water, and the inside is rinsed once more with water. Having been left to stand for 24 hours, the duck is then roasted in a wood oven until it turns shiny brown and the skin is crispy.

It is usually carved in front of the diners and served in three courses. First comes the skin, then the meat, and finally a soup of the duck’s bones with celery and cabbage. Steamed thin wheat-flour pancakes or steamed wheat-flour “lotus buns,” are served in bamboo baskets. The meat is accompanied with spring onion, cucumber sticks (and sometimes carrot and garlic) and sweet bean sauce. The diners spread sauce over the pancake, which is wrapped around the meat and the vegetables and eaten by hand as a sandwich.

Where to enjoy Peking Duck in Beijing   

Traditional and well-established Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing include Quanjude and Bianyifang, both centuries-old establishments, which have their own style: Quanjude is known for using the hung oven roasting method, while Bianyifang uses the oldest technique of closed oven roasting. Both have very large operations visited by loads of tourists, Chinese and foreign, on tours. The “Sick Duck” in Wangfujing and Xiao Wang Fu at Ritan Park are also popular alternatives.

In the up-market brackets, two restaurants are regularly amongst the top Peking Duck restaurant’s yearly listings, namely Dadong and Duck de Chine.

Dadong’s restaurants are named after Mr. Dong Zhenxiang, the owner and former chef. He now operates four restaurants in the city serving thousands of meals a day. While traditional and succulent Peking Duck remains THE star on the menu, he has created his own culinary style blending east and west. The culinary fare is contemporary and creative and totally different from any other Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing.

Duck de Chine operates two restaurants in Beijing, both in courtyard setting with contemporary décor and touches. The menu is more traditional than Dadong’s but the Duck is not carved at the table. It is perfectly served at the right temperature and accompanied with their own sauce and garnishes.

A newcomer, Jing Yaa Tang, the Opposite House’s Chinese restaurant in Sanlitun, opened last year and established itself as one of the top contenders for best Peking Duck. The garnishes include less common options such as garlic chips and melon, while the sauce is blended with crushed dates and honey, turning the whole experience to a different level.

And Made in China, serving authentic Chinese Northern cuisine and located at the Grand Hyatt, still has a host of followers.



Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing

Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing

Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing

Yield: 4–6 servings                   Preparation time: 1 hour

Arugula is not everybody’s favourite due to its sharpness/pepperiness but I do appreciate it especially combined with a host of ingredients bringing in different tastes and flavours. Sometime ago, I read with interest a salad recipe combining arugula and soft buttery eggplant and I created my own. I hope you’ll enjoy it.



  • 2 medium-size eggplants
  • Olive oil to brush the eggplant slices
  • Sea salt

For the dressing

  • 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 2 clove garlic
  • 3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbs honey
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large handfuls arugula leaves
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves (or one small tomato)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted peanuts
  • 3/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (basically half a pomegranate)



– Preheat the oven to 200°C.

– Peel and cut the eggplants into thick rounds of about 3 cm/1 inch thick

– Brush both sides with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and place on a shallow baking sheet. Place in the oven to roast until golden and cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes on each side.

– Remove, cool completely and slice each round in half. Set aside.

Red onion and peanuts

– After slicing the onion thinly, have it sautéed 2 minutes with a teaspoon of oil so it loses a bit of its sharpness. Let is cool down and add one spoon of apple vinegar to marinate.

– In the same pan, quickly have the peanuts sautéed (3 mins) so they get a bit of a smoky flavour (I actually use a mix of peanuts with red chili, a common treat in China).


– Put in a blender and crush the fennel seeds and garlic to make a paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Whisk together to emulsify the dressing. Set aside.


– Wash carefully the arugula leaves and dry it well. In a large bowl, lay the arugula leaves. Sprinkle the onion and tomatoes, and season on top. Add part of the dressing and toss to combine it well.

– Scatter the eggplant slices on the salad, peanuts and pomegranate seeds and drizzle some dressing all over.

– Serve immediately, with freshly baked bread on the side.

Bon Appetit!



Milu – Making the news since 1982

Although largely unknown in the west, the Milu has iconic status in China. The Milu stands with the Panda, the tiger, the Yangtze dolphin (now believed to be extinct), the finless porpoise, the Yangtze sturgeon, the Chinese alligator, the Przewalski horse and the Crested Ibis on the list of China and the world’s most endangered species.

1A.EN animals in China China Daily May 22, 2013

Endangered species in China

The extinction of the Milu in its homeland and its successful reintroduction more than 80 years later make a great story and Milu has been in the news ever since information of their reintroduction captured the imagination of people in China and abroad.

1-1.Beijing Daily announcing the signing of the signing of the preliminary agreement for the reintroduction of Milu Feb. 28, 1985

Beijing Daily article about the signing of the preliminary agreement and the eminent return of the Milu to China – February 28, 1985

1-2.People's Daily announcing the opening of Milu Park for the Milu returning to China Aug. 22, 1985

People’s Daily announcing the opening of Milu Park for the Milu returning to China Aug. 22, 1985

My first interview regarding the Milu took place much earlier than the actual reintroduction. While in the US in 1982, I met by chance a reporter working for The Christian Science Monitor and during our chat I mentioned the Milu. She was very interested and eventually published a story featuring the Milu saved from extinction by the Bedford family.   It was followed by an interview with National Geographic Magazine. The editorial team had read the story in Christian Science Monitor and wanted to put together a full fledged article on the Milu. Entitled “Saving Pere David’s Deer”, it remains one of the most interesting interviews I ever did. I found the editor, Larry Kohl, well informed and very interested not only in the saving of the deer as such but also interested in many aspects of the ancient history of the Milu: literature, porcelain and paintings among others. Following the initial interview, National Geographic actually organized a trip to the UK where Kohl and photographer Bates Littlehales spent one week at Woburn Abbey. Larry had extensive chats with the Marquess of Tavistok and did additional research to collect valuable information for the article. National Geographic published a second piece on Milu in 1989 entitled “Return of the Native: Deer Go Home to China”.

2.National Geographic cover - October 1982

Cover of National Geographic Magazine, October 1982 issue

Soon after, the Marquess of Tavistock and I did several interviews with various newspapers in the UK. The first British paper was the Daily Telegraph. The Marquess of Tavistock was a great interviewee as he had many anecdotes for the media. He talked about the first time he heard the story of the Milu from his grandfather; the promise he made to himself at age 13 to, one day, return the Milu to China; his immense pride that four generations of the Bedford family managed, on their own, a successful captive breeding program that saved the Milu from extinction; and the reintroduction of the animal to its homeland when animal conservation and environmental issues were of little concern to most people in the world. He also spoke of his happiness in being able to pass the baton to his eldest son (Andrew, now the 15th Duke of Bedford) to continue in the footsteps of his ancestors; and his dream to see a free living population of Milu in China. Sadly he did not live to see his dream become reality as he passed away in 2003, aged 63, twenty years after he started discussion with Chinese authorities about the return of the Milu to China.   In 2005, the Beijing authorities honoured the Duke’s memory by unveiling his statue at Nan Haizi during celebrations of the 20th Anniversary of the Milu reintroduction in the presence of his widow, Henrietta, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, and his three children, Andrew, 15th Duke of Bedford, Lord Robin Russell and Lord James Russell. It is very unusual for Chinese authorities to honour a foreign national in such a way and it showed the deep respect and immense gratitude that they felt for him and his family.

3.Marquess of Tavistock Statue

Inauguration of the statue of Robin, 14th Duke of Bedford, at Nan Haizi in 2005 in the presence of Henrietta, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, Andrew, 15th Duke of Bedford, Lord and Lady Robin Russell, and Lord and Lady James Russell

The first interviews with Chinese media took place on August 26, 1985, at the Beijing Capital Airport. Several journalists were among the group awaiting the arrival of the Air France 747 Combi and they wished to know everything about the Milu, how they were saved from extinction by the 11th Duke of Bedford, and how did someone born in Slovakia, married to an American, who studied at Oxford was handling their reintroduction in China on behalf of the Bedford Family. To this day I regret that my husband, Johnny, passed away before he could see the success of the reintroduction. He was a zoologist, specializing in birds. He spent several years studying the Emperor penguins in the Ross Iceshelf near McMurdo Station in the Antarctic and he was a close friend of the Marquess of Tavistock.

4-1.China Daily front page article announcing the arrival of Milu to Beijing Aug. 26, 1985

China Daily front page article announcing the arrival of Milu to Beijing Aug. 26, 1985

4-2.SCMP announcing the arrival of the first herd of Milu in Beijing Aug. 26, 1985

South China Morning Post announcing the arrival of the first herd of Milu in Beijing Aug. 26, 1985.

4-3.China Environmental Newspaper announcing the arrival of Milu in Beijing Aug. 27, 1985

China Environmental Newspaper announcing the arrival of Milu in Beijing Aug. 27, 1985

During the first few years, several journalists were keenly interested in the reintroduction project and contributed greatly to the cause (so to speak) by generating awareness among the general public outside of China and also in scientific and conservationist circles. One was Nigel Sitwell from England. He travelled several time to Beijing to see the Milu at Nan Haizi and he closely followed their progress and translocations to various places in China. The other one was Hong Kong-based British free-lance journalist, Jane Ram. She has regularly featured the Milu reintroduction in various publications from the early days. Jane came several times to Nan Haizi and once to the Hubei Shishou Milu National Nature Reserve during the preparation of a Master Plan (2012-2026) for the creation of a Center for Excellence on Conservation at the Hubei Shishou Milu National Nature Reserve.

5.Nigel Sitwell's 1986 article published in %22Intrepid%22 magazine 2

Nigel Sitwell’s 1986 article published in “Intrepid” magazine”

In China, interest in the Milu never stopped following the reintroduction. In 1987, the birth of the first 10 fawns was welcomed as the confirmation that the reintroduction was a success and the future of the Milu in China ensured. Interestingly, many media published the news using the same picture.

6-1.Birth of new fawns  China Daily Apr. 25, 1987

Birth of new fawns  China Daily Apr. 25, 1987

6-2.Official announcement by Xinhua News Agency for the birth of Milu fawns Apr. 24, 1987

Official announcement by Xinhua News Agency for the birth of Milu fawns Apr. 24, 1987

6-3.New Fawns at NHZ      BJ Youth Apr. 24, 1987

New Fawns at Nanhaizi, Beijing Youth Apr. 24, 1987

Some media in China also featured the “legend of the Milu” or more precisely its origin: According to Chinese legend, when a tyrant called King Zhou ruled the land more than 4,000 years ago, a horse, a donkey, an ox and a deer went into a cave deep in the forest to meditate. On the day when the King conducted an execution, the animals awoke from their meditation and turned into humans. As such, they learned of the King’s heinous acts and decided to take recourse against him. To do so, they transformed themselves into one creature that combined the speed of the horse, the strength of the ox, the donkey’s keen sense of direction and the nimble agility of the deer. The Milu was born! The Lord of Heaven, upon learning of the animal’s quest, dispatched the creature to one of his disciples, the sage Jiang Ziya, who was battling King Zhou. Jiang Ziya rode the creature to victory over the King and helped found the Zhou Dynasty. After fulfilling its vow, the Milu settled in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and became a symbol of good fortune.

The Milu story still generates coverage internationally and last year I read with interest a piece on the science blog of the Nature Conservancy on how Milu survived the odds from the brink of extinction.(//

In China, I continue to scrutinize media coverage of the Milu looking for any errors. Last month (July 2014), an article featuring endangered species in China mentioned that the Milu was found in Tibet. The following issue of the same publication went on to state that the Milu was illegally sent overseas in the late 19th century. Both are totally incorrect. The Milu was legally obtained by the French and British Missions in Beijing and sent to several European Zoos at the turn of the 19th century from where the 11th Duke of Bedford gathered them onto his estate and eventually saved them from extinction. I called the Editor in Chief to complain about this total nonsense and hopefully she will publish a correction in a future issue.   I always get very upset when I read misinformation about the Milu and their reintroduction. Sadly, despite my calls, corrections appear very rarely in any publication. Fortunately, nowadays people interested in nature conservation can easily access correct information on the Internet.   The most recently published news about the Milu Park mentions that it is one of the 10 top weekend destinations to visit this summer in Beijing. Milu still makes the news!

Nostalgia 2 – Donation to “Dear Milu” August – December 1985

In my previous posts, I mentioned that the reintroduction of the Milu generated a lot of enthusiasm and stimulated much needed interest in the topic of wildlife conservation in general among Chinese people.

Among the most touching happenings were the many children’s letters we started receiving at Nan Haizi following the arrival of the first herd (even before they were released from their compulsory quarantine). Children had heard the news on TV or from their parents or teachers and they started sending letters addressed to “Dear Milu”. Many also included their photos.

In her letter dated September 10, 1985, 6-year old Zhang Xiao Hong said that before the Milu returned back home she would have wished she had wings to fly to visit them in England. She shared her thoughts about the deer being so happy to return home after an absence of nearly one hundred years and was asking “Dear Milu” whether they knew why she was writing them this letter: “because today is Teacher Day, and I want to become a biology teacher when I grow up. I will tell my students to love all natural resources in China. Dear Milu, you don’t know but last year, because the bamboo failed to blossom, poor Panda did not have enough food. I felt so sad. But we will not let you leave China again. September 26 is my birthday and I am sending you 2 RMB. I hope the auntie who looks after you can get you some snacks that you like. I am going to visit you one day very soon“.

Another letter came from little Gao Hai Sha, who also said that she loved nature and mentioned that she had never seen a Milu. She was asking if “Dear Milu” looked like the Mei Hua Lu (Sika deer) and wished them a happy stay at the Milu Park.

After the release had taken place, we received many more letters asking the deer to be careful. Lv Bing, calling herself “Milu’s little sister” wrote on October 4: “Now the weather is getting colder, please be careful, don’t get cold. I started collecting pocket money when I was four years old. Now I have RMB 2.6 that I am sending you together with this letter. I hope uncles and aunties who work at the Milu Park will be able to buy you some toys and snacks. Later when I have more money, I will send it to you again.”

1985 Letter Lv Bing

Lv Bing’s letter dated Oct 4th 1985

Nowadays, these amounts may look minuscule (In Beijing, a one-way underground ticket costs 2 RMB) but at that time the selling price of a nice ice cream bar was 5 cents. Therefore the sum of 2 RMB was the equivalent to 40 ice creams. Quite a feast for children!

I do not know what became of these little girls and the many other children who wrote to “Dear Milu” over the years, whether they indeed became biology teachers or eventually worked in connection with nature and animal conservation and protection. But I must say that, each time, it was very heart warming for all of us working on the reintroduction when we received their lovely letters.


Nostalgia November-December 1985

During the stay of the Marquess of Tavistock in Beijing for the release of the Milu at Nan Haizi, several events took place in accordance with Chinese protocol.

The Chinese government hosted an official banquet at the Great Hall of the People the day after he arrived. The host was Vice Premier Li Peng and the Chinese guest list included the Mayor of Beijing (who has the rank of Minister), several ministers and vice ministers as well as other high-ranking officials and experts involved in the reintroduction. Normally, the number of guests is equal (from the host and the guest of honour) and there were approximately 70 people in attendance.

Following the tradition in China, the head table was reserved for VIPs and was larger than the other tables. In this particular case, the circular table (which had a superb floral centrepiece) held 18 guests. I have no recollection of the menu but I remember that there were many toasts in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Milu and that the mood was very joyful.

1-11.10.85 Draft Chinese guest listHandwritten Chinese guest list

2. Marquess of Tavistock welcomed by Li Peng at the Great Hall of the PeopleVice Premier Li Peng welcoming the Marquess of Tavistock 

1.China Environmental News front page article about the meeting between Vice Premier Li Pang and the Marquess of Tavistock Nov. 16, 1985

China Environmental News front page article about the meeting between Vice Premier Li Pang and the Marquess of Tavistock Nov 16, 1985

The following day, the Milu were released at Nan Haizi marking the completion of the reintroduction of the species to China (Please refer to my previous post – Milu reintroduction 3).

Afterwards, a tree planting ceremony was performed by key VIPs including the Marquess of Tavistock, Beijing Vice Mayor Zhang Jian Min and officials from the National Environmental Protection Agency. This ritual was dedicated to the long-term success of the reintroduction and also part of the rehabilitation of the landscape of the Milu Reserve. It was also a way to highlight the importance of what trees would bring to the Reserve throughout their lifetime providing shelter for birds and small animals and participating in the overall Milu Park ecosystem.

3. Planting of trees to celebrate the release of the MiluTree planting ceremony 

Before returning to the UK, the Marquess of Tavistock was ‘expected’ to host a return banquet. He selected the Great Hall of the People as it was the most prestigious venue. In addition to thanking his Chinese hosts for their hospitality and for making the reintroduction a reality, it was THE opportunity for him to thank all the people who made the reintroduction a success story. In total, about 60 guests attended the event.

Among them, I remember with great fondness several great supporters of the project who have now passed away including:

– General Lu Zhen Cao

He made a name for himself during the war against the Japanese army from 1937 to 1945 and became the first Chinese Minister of Railways of the PRC. He helped found and chair the China Milu Foundation in 1985 to support the return of the Milu to China.

He was quite an impressive man, bold, with a fierce look. Once, I said jokingly to Professor Wang Zongyi that, if I did not know him and met him in a dark alley at night, I would be scared and would run away. Eventually, my comments reached him and he laughed. The following time we met, he teased me with a big smile on his face saying that he was so surprised to hear I would run away from him and that, should it ever happen, he would catch me!

I remember the last time I met him, 12 years after the reintroduction. I invited him together with people from Nan Hai Zi who were involved with the initial reintroduction project. He was over 90 at that time but still had a good appetite and he was in high spirits the entire evening. He met Dominic on this occasion and was teasing us about our business partnership hoping that it would not create similar havoc as the ransacking of the old Summer Palace in 1860 by Anglo-French forces (a small explanation: for him, I came from the UK to handle the project and Dominic, being a French national, we were a new Anglo-French force).

At the time of his death in 2009, he was 106 years of age and the last survivor of the original generals of the People’s Liberation Army. It was a great loss for everyone who had the privilege to work with him on this project.

4. Lord Tavistock and General LuExchange of gifts between the Marquess of Tavistock and former Ministry of Railways, General Lu Zhen Cao during the dinner he hosted at the Great Hall of the People]

 – Cui Yue Li

He served as the Beijing Municipal Health Sports Minister and Vice Mayor of Beijing before being appointed to the position of China Health Minister in 1982. I first met him in 1983 at Woburn Abbey and through him I got the letters of invitation that allowed me to come to China in 1984 at the invitation of the Ministry of Health and another one from the Ministry of Forestry. He also organized my research trip to Shanghai in 1984 and was one of the key members of the Milu Foundation.

I remember that on the day I came to China, he organized a welcome banquet to celebrate my arrival and made me promise that I would NEVER ride a bike as it was too dangerous. He was very serious about it and I promised. I believe that in his mind it applied to China as a whole but my promise only concerned Beijing where I have kept my word to this day. However, as some of you who have read other posts on this blog know, I used to ride a bike in Shanghai (see “my first trip to Pudong”) but I never told him.

6. 10.18.83 Letter from China EmbassyLetter from Chinese Embassy

– Bao Er Han, former Vice Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee

He supported the re-introduction from the initial stage and brought invaluable political guanxi to push it over governmental hurdles on many occasions.

Over the years I had the opportunity to meet him and his lovely wife and daughter several times at their home. We spoke Russian together and quite often we talked about Xinjiang (where he came from) and the many places I was dreaming to visit one day.

– Qian Chang Zhao

An Oxford Graduate who had served as secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1928 to 1929, and senior Vice-Minister of Education from 1930 to 32, he was appointed Vice Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee from 1980 to 1988. He strongly supported the reintroduction and later the translocation of Milu during his tenure as CPPCC Vice Chairman.

In addition to the Milu, we had another strong bond: Oxford. He always wore his college tie during official events and we often talked about the Cherwell, the beautiful Bodleian library and the lifelong camaraderie shared by all students.

5. Lord Tavistock and Mr. QianThe Marquess of Tavistock and Mr. Qian during pre-dinner drinks at the Great Hall of the People

Another person instrumental in the successful reintroduction of the Milu (and the work done since then) who also attended this dinner is Professor Wang Sung from the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. I had never contacted him prior to coming to China but I knew that he was representing China at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and I thought that he would be a great asset for the reintroduction project.

Our first contact, a few days after I arrived in Beijing, was very good and he showed great interest in the Milu reintroduction. Over the following months and years, Professor Wang Sung kindly introduced me to many people in various fields and positions who were able to assist us in various ways with the reintroduction.

Over the years, Professor Wang and I became good friends. He invited me to his home where I met his brilliant daughter who eventually went to study in the USA, his son and his wife, who was a fantastic cook. I still remember some of the dishes she used to make such as succulent marrow pancakes. She is a very lovely person, very generous, and as hospitable as her husband. Each time we met it was an absolute feast.

To this day, I still contact and meet Professor Wang at regular intervals to get advice on various issues relating to the Milu and other conservation topics in China and abroad. He was involved with the successful translocation of Milu to Shishou in the 1990s and with the recent master plan (2012-2026) that was compiled by a team of experts to make the Hubei Shishou Milu National Nature Reserve a center of excellence for conservation. Well into his 70s, he is still very active and continues travelling all over China to provide sound advice and support to many environmental and conservation projects.

The people invited by the Marquess of Tavistock on this particular day and many others made the re-introduction of Milu possible despite the fact that, unlike the Panda project, which benefitted from international funding through WWF and overseas conservation organizations, the Milu reintroduction had very limited funding. At that time, China was slowly recovering from the Cultural Revolution that had ended in 1976. Its financial standing was not what it has become 30 years later. The Bedford Family provided critical financial support to cover the cost of transportation of the first herd of Milu from Woburn to Beijing and the staff to ensure that the quarantine would be handled without difficulties.

7. List of deer originally placed in quarantine in WoburnOriginal list of deer placed in quarantine at Woburn Abbey 

Although we worked on a shoestring budget (so to speak), we achieved great success. In December 1985, China Daily reported the two most important achievements of the year. The first was the Sino-British Joint Declaration (for the return of Hong Kong sovereignty to China) that entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification on 27 May 1985 and was registered by the People’s Republic of China and United Kingdom governments at the United Nations. And the second was the Milu re-introduction. That was indeed a major accolade.

Milu reintroduction – Continued 4 August – October 1985

The story of the Milu continues from Part 3 (please click here to read):

In the course of preparations for the reintroduction of the Milu, our Team worked at the Beijing Museum of Natural History in Dongcheng District. The architecture of the building does not compare to the distinctive colonial style of the Shanghai Museum of Natural History, but it was the first large scale natural history museum created in China.

Its collections include paleontology, ornithology, mammals and invertebrates and the number of complete large ancient mammal fossils ranks second in the world. The Stegodon zdanskyi (an ancient elephant) is the most famous and precious in the collection. I still remember the all-pervasive smell redolent of moth-balls and cleaning liquid.

The afternoon was the best time to visit the museum as there were fewer visitors and one could truly enjoy oneself. I often wondered whether at night, after all staff had left, the animals were somehow coming back to life and going around the museum. I could visualize the sea shells clicking together while dancing to sea waves …. A bit like in the movie “Night at the Museum”. Quite an eerie feeling.

1. Beijing Museum of Natural HistoryBeijing Museum of Natural History

A team of experts in zoology, paleontology, botany, ecology and animal behaviour and other fields was allocated to the reintroduction project. Professor Wang Zongyi, who is a top calibre zoologist, acted as my counterpart on the Chinese side. There were also people from the farm to which the land of the Milu Park used to belong and I was the only foreign expert. A translator was always with me to ensure that I would know exactly what was done (or not done for that matter).

2. Maria Boyd and Professor Wang ZongyiMaria Boyd and Prof. Wang Zong Yi

My key role was to coordinate all activities and ensure that, despite any potential breakdown in communication and lack of mutual understanding due to cultural differences, we would be able to work together as a Team to create the perfect and safe environment for the Milu upon arrival and once released at Nan Haizi.

After the agreement was signed on July 17, 1985, the final arrangements were made. Two weeks before the deer were supposed to land in Beijing, I flew to London to meet The Marquess of Tavistock to get the final brief. The deer were going to be trucked across the English Channel and then loaded onto an Air France Combi 747 in large crates. At the time, Air France was the only carrier flying 747 Combi to Beijing and it was therefore the best option available. In China, they would make their final journey to Nan Haizi by truck from the Beijing airport.

One week before the deer left the UK, I flew back to Beijing from Paris on a similar flight as the deer would take. At each stop we made (Karachi, Delhi), I had made arrangements to meet the people responsible for providing fresh and clean water for the deer to make sure all would be in order. It worked well.

The Marquess of Tavistock personally oversaw the transfer of the deer to Paris and the loading on to the plane. His eldest son, Lord Howland, travelled with the deer and he was accompanied by the head deer keeper and the person who had been in charge of the quarantine of the deer in the UK.

All arrived safely at the Beijing International Airport on August 24th. After a brief moment of panic when two large crates went “temporarily missing”, and when I had a horrible vision of Milu running on the tarmac with people trying unsuccessfully to catch them, the deer crates were loaded on trucks for the slow two-hour trip to Nan Haizi.

3. 08.24,1985 Arrival of Milu at Beijing airportMilu arrival at Beijing airport 

Chinese regulations required a two-month quarantine before the animals could be released. A special section fenced with bamboo had been set up accordingly and all worked according to plan.

4. Milu Quarantine quarterMilu quarantine quarters at Nan Haizi 

On November 11, 1985, as the cold wind from the North China plains was blowing, the long awaited release took place in the presence of the Marquess of Tavistock, Vice Mayor Zhang Jiangmin, Mr. Qu Geping, Director of the National Environmental Protection Agency, numerous scientists and environmental experts, their families and the media.

Mr. Qu and the Marquess of Tavistock opened the bamboo doors of the quarantine area. At first the deer did not want to leave their warm quarters but some keepers entered and gently nudged them to leave their cozy surroundings.

5. 11.11.1985 Release of Milu at Nan HaiziFinally released! 

Thus after 85 years of absence the Milu had returned back to its homeland. As the Marquess of Tavisotck mentioned rather emotionally: “Returning a herd of these deer to China is something I wanted to do since I was a child – when my grandfather showed them to me and told me their story. It must be a unique exercise in conservation to return a species to virtually the precise spot where it last lived. It is also satisfying to be able to complete the conservation efforts my great grandfather began at the turn of the 19th century”.

Within the next couple of years, the project produced many significant benefits. The reintroduction aroused popular enthusiasm and brought much needed attention to wildlife conservation in general. Birds that had not been seen for many decades started to return to the park such as spoonbills, storks, white egrets and others. And the deer adjusted well to their new environment.

The ultimate hoped-for aim of the reintroduction in Beijing (which was to build up the population of Milu so that eventually sufficient animals would be available for translocation in other parts of the country where they used to live freely in the past) was getting closer to reality. This would eventually take place eight years later in Hubei province, along the Yangtze River. But that is another story.



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.