Chinese judge keeps a watchful eye on wildlife
BEIJING -- As the sun begins to peek over the horizon, 33-year-old Yang Jie braces against the wind and reaches the top of a mountain. He quickly snaps a photo as a sparrowhawk flies over his head.
"Sparrowhawks mainly live in forests and prey on small birds," said Yang, a judge of the People's Court of Changping District in Beijing who has been observing and protecting the city's wildlife for eight years.
Born on the grasslands of neighboring Hebei Province, Yang has had a special affection for wild animals since childhood.
"My dad always took home injured animals such as wild ducks. Sometimes they died despite our treatment. I cried and dug holes to bury them," Yang said ahead of the World Wildlife Day which falls on Tuesday this year.
Yang mainly handles commercial court cases. In his spare time, he enjoys climbing. His birding journey started in 2012 when he met a birdwatcher from Friends of Nature, an environmental non-governmental organization, on a mountain. He decided to join them in wildlife protection.
Every weekend since then, Yang treks into the mountains, recording the species and number of migratory birds. Accumulating knowledge, he has turned himself into a bird specialist.
"I regard birdwatching as a wonderful hobby. It can build up my body and mind. Also, it can help protect wild animals. The only downside is that the mountaineering equipment and camera are a bit expensive," he said.
With more contact with wild animals, Yang began to focus on cracking down on wildlife poaching. Out of commercial interest or curiosity, poachers strategically place snares and traps in mountains and around reservoirs.
"The only thing some people know about wildlife is how to cook them," Yang said.
Once he found a raccoon dog caught in a trap. The poacher who was a resident of a nearby village appeared when Yang tried to release the animal. The stalemate drew a crowd of curious onlookers from the village who did not realize hunting wildlife was illegal and pointed the finger at Yang.
Luckily, the head of the villagers committee recognized Yang who had handled a case for the village, and dispersed the group. The forest police arrived at the site, taking away the poacher and discovering frozen boars and pheasants in his freezer.
In another case, he found a pair of eagle owls, a species under state protection, that had failed to breed successfully every year because a villager from Yang's hometown took away their eggs and ate them all.
Yang visited the villager, became his friend and explained the concept of wildlife protection to him. Finally, the man gave up eating wild animals. "He even takes photos of the eagle owls and sends them to me every week," Yang said.
Under his influence, more people including his colleagues have shown interest in wildlife protection. "They encourage me to keep going. And many colleagues join me to climb up the mountain for birdwatching on weekends," he said.
Last week, China's top legislature decided to thoroughly ban illegal wildlife trade and eliminate the bad habits of eating wild animals.
Local governments in Fujian, Guangdong and Tianjin have also introduced regulations banning such behaviors. Shenzhen has gone even further to issue a "white list" of only a dozen edible animals, expanding the ban to other non-protected animals.
"The news heartened those engaged in wildlife conservation," Yang said. "I hope more people do their best to protect wild animals and live in harmony with them."