One joy of working at Rare is the opportunity to visit some of the most precious places on earth. Sadly, I often miss seeing key species because their scarcity makes them nearly impossible to see. Fortunately, this is not the case at the Hanzhong Crested Ibis Nature Reserve in China. The crested ibis has made a remarkable recovery over the past 30 years from seven individuals to about 750 today due to a successful captive breeding program and better protection in the wild.
It was late in the day on my first foray into the reserve. The sun was beginning to set. The farmers were cultivating their fields while listening to traditional opera on loudspeakers. Overhead flew a flock of majestic crested ibis. I watched as they perched in a grove of trees by the fields and fish ponds. Nearly as exciting as seeing the birds were the community members who knew all about them. They knew where to find them, what they eat and excitedly shared their knowledge. This is how it should be.
“The crested ibis has made a remarkable recovery over the past 30 years.”
In late 2010, Rare partnered with the nature reserve to run a two-year Pride campaign to inspire pride in the community around the beautiful bird and its habitat. The campaign seeks to ensure food sources from the Han River and its tributaries are bountiful enough to support a robust ibis population as well as human inhabitants.
Multiple threats face the habitat and food sources of the crested ibis ranging from sand mining and agriculture to overfishing. Central to all these threats are people. Central to the solution are people. A pioneering group of 50 fishers have stepped up to help form a co-management committee organized by the Hanzhong Crested Ibis National Nature Reserve and Rare. Through the committee fishers commit to using appropriate fishing gear, stopping illegal electric-shock fishing, reporting violations and a two-month period of no fishing. In exchange, the reserve has purchased new nets for all members of the committee and will also stock the river with local fish and jointly patrol the waters.
The Pride campaign targets all sectors of society including youth. Kids are not just information sponges, they are also conduits of knowledge. Children inform and inspire their parents. And parents regard the information they bring back from schools as highly credible. Local students perform a puppet show about the ibis at community centers and town squares throughout the community. A child’s performance is a natural magnet for parents, uncles, cousins … and curious onlookers. It is a relatively easy and fun way to communicate conservation messages in small towns.
The goal of the community outreach is to help fishers make tough choices about how, where and when they fish. Through broad community engagement, Rare can help validate their decision to support conservation and sustainable fishing programs. The goal is that the right behavior becomes the norm. When conservation values are the accepted behavior, then the fish, the fishers and the crested ibis will be more secure.
Conservation can only happen if people want it to happen. While many people don’t know about conservation issues, the bigger threat is that they know and do not care. Through the Pride campaign communities around the Hanzhong Crested Ibis Nature Reserve are converting their knowledge into action.
Read more about the crested ibis in “Protecting the food source of the endangered crested ibis in Shaanxi, China.“