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January 4, 2017

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Injured birds find a protector in esteemed falconer

FALCONER Li Zhongwen is highly regarded in his field but is less interested in hunting these days and more in protecting birds of prey.

Li lives in the village of Yulou in northeast China’s Jilin Province, in an area that used to be an imperial hunting ground during the 17th century. The Manchu people have lived there for hundreds of years.

In Yulou, there are more than 50 seasoned falconers, and Li, who holds a national license to hunt, train and breed native species, is said to be the best.

“We have the skills, but we do not have the falcons,” he said. “It troubles me. Falconry is part of our cultural heritage, but we are under pressure to protect, not hunt animals. We have an obligation to protect them, especially so when their population is dwindling.

“As the first step, we need to protect the birds, and when their numbers grow, we can return to falconry,” he added.

Li has turned the local falconers’ club into an animal protection club. Since 2013, he and other falconers have rescued more than 200 injured birds of prey from the mountains.

At his yard, Li has 20 birds, one of which is a 5-year-old goshawk with a damaged wing. “We will release them when spring comes,” he said.

Last month, Li spotted a rough-legged buzzard with frostbite. “It was less than a year old, still learning to fly,” he said.

Keeping them is costly. “The birds need meat so they can heal better,” he said.

Li supports his work with money from tourists who visit his yard and watch his birds perform. He also trains falcons to drive wild birds away from airports.

“Many people have doubts over falconry, but I have a clear conscience. We carry on our heritage through better protection of the birds,” he said.


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