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Following in the ranger
Author:Wu Yong CopyFrom:China Daily Hits:2070 UpdateTime:2012/12/19 10:44:04


Liang Feng'en spends his spare time chatting online with friends from around the country.

The frozen feet and burning legs were a small price to pay for a chance to join a Siberian tiger hunt in the mountains in Suiyang town in Heilongjiang province, near the Russian border.

We weren't hunting the big cats for sport but, rather, patrolling their habitat as rangers.

I joined a weeklong project organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature's China branch and the town's government to enhance public awareness about the endangered species and the environment.

The Siberian tiger, giant panda and Asian elephant are WWF's flagship species in China. The organization hopes to use the charisma of these iconic animals to appeal for protection of the region's ecology.

Hundreds of Siberian tigers prowled Heilongjiang's virgin forests in the 1960s but have since become rare.

However, they're returning to the mountains of Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces from Russia's far east after a decade of reforestation.

About 10 volunteers were divided into three teams to patrol their main habitats. They monitor the environment and tiger activity in Jilin's Lanjia forest, and Heilongjiang's Dongfanghong and Suiyang forests.

I opted to trek through Suiyang, partly because I've heard of the fame of star ranger Liang Feng'en.

The WWF and the local government honored the 55-year-old as a model ranger because of his professionalism and dedication.

Liang used to be known as the region's best hunter. He's said to have never returned empty-handed.

Another reason I chose Suiyang is that it's an important migratory corridor between China and Russia's Primorsky Territory.

The local forestry administration established a tiger-protection zone last year and is applying to build a larger national conservation area.

After a 10-hour train ride from Liaoning province's capital Shenyang to Jilin's Yanji, we transfer to a bus and then switch to a jeep when the snow smothering the road becomes too deep.

I forgo the relative comfort of my hotel room to stay with Liang and observe his life at close quarters. We spend the evening talking about his story from the first boar he killed to the last elk he got in the '70s.

My dreams that night are inhabited by various animals, including deer and tigers.

The dreams were pleasant. The next day was torturous.

We set out at 8 am and return around 2:30 pm because it gets dark at 3 pm in the mountains. The wild becomes a dangerous place after dusk, when snow leopards and Siberian tigers hunt.

I struggle in the -20C weather to slog through 50cm deep snow. Liang leads the way, and I save some strength by walking in his footsteps.

I can hardly move my legs when I return to the jeep. I manage to climb into the vehicle and use my hands to lift my legs on the seat.

I must admit, I was proud to learn that the TV reporters following another team gave up after only an hour of trudging along the snowy treks.

And I gained a much deeper understanding of wildlife conservation and residents' lives by literally following in a local ranger's footsteps.

Before I leave, the town's forestry bureau's leader Liu Yuhai says he's pleased the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China reiterated calls for the construction of an eco-friendly society. This makes him feel more confident the country will better balance economic progress and environmental protection.

I promise him I'll return in the summer, when the snow is gone but rainfall and ticks make the mountains more dangerous.


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