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Protecting the Life of an Iconic Figure in the Sky: 30 Years of Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Conservation

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202312/15
Today (December 15), the Forestry and Nature Conservation Agency (FANCA) published the new book Stories of the Group of Guardians Protecting the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana. Since the pheasant-tailed jacana was declared a protected species in 1989, its population has increased from 50 to 2,882 after 30 years of efforts. This is the result of the joint effort and dedication of the public sector, NGOs, industry, and academia over the years. Stories of the Group of Guardians Protecting the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana records the touching stories of those who have selflessly dedicated their lives to the protection of the pheasant-tailed jacana through a non-fiction narrative; in addition, it also summarizes modern conservation policies. Through this book, people can learn about the origins and stories of several conservation policies, including the conservation of farmland ecosystems, Green Conservation Label, Taiwan Ecological Network, and Payments for Ecosystem Services for Endangered Species and Critical Habitat Promotion Program.
In the new book launch, aside from playing the author’s book introduction video, several pheasant-tailed jacana conservation partners mentioned in the book were also invited to share their personal experiences, including Hwa-Ching Lin, Director General of the FANCA; Muh-Rong Su, Director of the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF); Wen-Chen Lee, Director of the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Park; Kun-Hai Lin, Secretary-General of the Kaohsiung Wild Bird Society; Ren-Bang Wu, Project Manager of the Tainan Community University, and Mr. Ping-Huo Lin, who farms water caltrops in Guantian. They jointly shared their special relationship with pheasant-tailed jacana conservation at the book launch.
In the book launch, Hwa-Ching Lin recalled the experiences and transition of the restoration of the pheasant-tailed Jacana population: In 2009, he served as a technical specialist at the Forestry Bureau, the predecessor of the Forestry and Nature Conservation Agency. He was responsible for Guantian Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Park operations and related affairs. At that time, both the Director and the Manager of the park, Man-Hsing Chiu and Jung-Hsuan Weng, proposed to improve the wetlands in the park, remove exotic aquatic plants, and plant water caltrops in advance, in order to increase the breeding clutch sizes of pheasant-tailed jacanas. Their belief was these measures would successfully raise the population of pheasant-tailed jacanas, which could not surpass 100. Hwa-Ching Lin persuaded his supervisor to double the subsidies for the park to begin the improvement of its habitat, and these strategies proved to be highly effective! In the winter of 2009, after conducting a study of the pheasant-tailed jacana population, it was found that the number of jacanas reached more than 200.
However, from December 2009 to January 2010, during the rice spring sowing season, a significant number of water birds died in the Guantian farmlands. After park personnel and the Wild Bird Society of Tainan carried out rescue and investigation tasks, it was found that a total of more than 4,000 birds had died, including 85 pheasant-tailed jacanas. As a new hope was beginning to emerge, this cast a shadow over the pheasant-tailed jacana restoration path.
Hwa-Ching Lin stated that, after the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Park acquired further information, they discovered that in order to reduce transplanting costs, many local farmers chose to use direct seeding instead of renting rice transplanters for transplanting. To prevent rats or sparrows from consuming the rice, farmers first soak the rice in pesticides before broadcast-sowing it. However, this led to a large number of birds dying due to accidental ingestion of poisoned rice. When the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Park and the Forestry Bureau were negotiating strategies, both Man-Hsing Chiu and Jung-Hsuan Weng suggested that the Forestry Bureau should provide NT$30,000 as subsidies for mechanical transplanting fees per hectare to farmers whose farmlands are hotspots for wintering pheasant-tailed jacanas. The strategy aimed to prevent further large-scale poisoning incidents. Additionally, Hwa-Ching Lin suggested that, aside from providing transplanting subsidies, the Bureau should also guide farmers in transitioning to eco-friendly agricultural practices, thereby providing a quality sustainable habitat for pheasant-tailed jacanas.
According to Hwa-Ching Lin, the poisoning incident was particularly memorable because many people, informed by media reports, urged the Forestry Bureau via emails to impose harsh penalties on the farmers responsible in accordance with laws and regulations. Nevertheless, he understood that the reason why farmers soaked rice in pesticides was to protect their harvests; they did not intend to deliberately harm pheasant-tailed jacanas. Although prosecuting farmers could satisfy the demands of bird lovers for justice, it could also lead farmers who live next to pheasant-tailed jacanas to believe that the government only cares about the lives of birds and disregards farmers' livelihoods. Moreover, farmers may take their anger out on birds, which could impair pheasant-tailed jacana conservation and goes against community conservation principles. Hwa-Ching Lin decided to take a long and challenging journey—to promote the ecological sustainability of farmlands that serve as wintering hotspots for pheasant-tailed jacanas. He invited the TOAF to jointly provide guidance to assist farmers transform their farming methods into environmentally-friendly practices. With the efforts of related organizations, the pheasant-tailed jacana population has significantly increased every year.
Ping-Huo Lin is a front-line farmer who spends time with pheasant-tailed jacanas day and night. His water caltrop paddies are also these birds’ home. Ping-Huo Lin shared that the pheasant-tailed jacana is not only a beautiful species he has encountered when collecting water caltrops, but also his life coach. One day, his wife saw how an egret, a natural predator of the pheasant-tailed jacana, was devouring a pheasant-tailed jacana chick in one mouthful, and she could not help but shed tears of sorrow. The cycle of life was vividly happening right in front of her. Ecological conservation and farmers' livelihoods are not in conflict or contradiction! Pheasant-tailed jacanas and farmers share a mutual emotional bond of protection and reliance.
Director Muh-Rong Su shared, “Today, I have witnessed that conservation works are the results of collaboration between government departments, private organizations, farmers, and agricultural consumers. I would also like to thank the Forestry Bureau, which faced doubts about why it requested to step into agricultural productions back then, the Bureau still actively broke through parochialism within departments and promoted farmland ecological sustainability with a forward-looking perspective. Doing something meaningful and achieving such results in a lifetime is incredibly worth it!”
Wen-Chen Lee joked and said that technically, the jacana is her love rival. She still remembers back when she was pregnant with her daughter, her husband, Rong-Xuan Weng, was always busy surveying pheasant-tailed jacanas. She started to wonder where her husband was. After Weng passed away, at first, she resisted taking over his tasks. However, when she recalled his dedication to the pheasant-tailed jacanas, she decided to take over this challenge. As a farmer, she once heard other farmers complain to her, “The Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Park only cares about whether birds have a better living environment but disregards whether farmers can make enough money to support themselves and their families.” Wen-Chen Lee was once frustrated with such situations. However, as the park's habitat improved, the value of developing society as the priority has gradually been shaken. Furthermore, thanks to the promotion of environmental education, farmers have changed their attitude from resistance to joyfully sharing the ecological restoration results of farmlands with her. Moreover, she was filled with joy and appreciation for the performance of co-prosperity between farmers and ecological conservations and the support from the Forestry and Nature Conservation Agency during the entire process.
The experience of transforming farmland farming methods into environmentally-friendly practices due to pheasant-tailed jacana conservation has become the main foundation for today’s habitat conservation policies of the FANCA, and has had a profound influence. Besides collaborating with the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation to promote the Guantian pheasant-tailed jacana green conservation label, and subsequently further promoting it across Taiwan and becoming a “Green Conservation Label,” the FANCA has also collaborated with the Tainan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station. Through the integrated pest management (IPM) technology for water caltrops and the application of organic materials to improve the water and soil quality of water caltrop paddies, along with eco-friendly farming technology, both water caltrop productivity and habitat environments as well as farmers' income have been increased. Additionally, this enables eco-friendly pheasant-tailed jacana habitats and farmland to gradually increase every year.
The FANCA furthered explained that the inter-departmental “Taiwan Ecological Network” of 2018 was promoted to protect the ecological environment of sustainable farmland in low-elevation mountain and plain environments. The “Chianan Plain Wetland Conservation Corridor,” one of the 45 corridors in Taiwan utilizes farmland and wetlands as the conservation core to connect the surrounding rice paddies, field ditches, and pond areas. It aims to establish eco-friendly habitats for pheasant-tailed jacanas, Taipei grass frogs, green pond frogs, and common rice paddy snakes. Additionally, the FANCA has collaborated with the Chianan Management Office of the Irrigation Agency to create habitats in Jiuqiongbi, Shuishang Township, to increase the number of habitats for the pheasant-tailed jacana.
Moreover, pheasant-tailed jacana restoration is also the start of the Payments for Ecosystem Services Promotion Program. Since 1998, the implementation of the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Conservation Award program and the subsidy program for improving habitats for pheasant-tailed jacanas wintering in 2010 have separately rewarded farmers who protect pheasant-tailed jacanas’ breeding and nesting sites, cooperate with water level adjustments in winter, and practice pesticide-free spring planting. These programs were the first cases of Payment for Ecosystem Services in Taiwan. Since 2021, the “Payments for Ecosystem Services for Endangered Species and Critical Habitat Promotion Program” has been officially promoted across Taiwan, and the pheasant-tailed jacana is one of the main target species for payments.
The book can be purchased at the Government Books Store (address: No. 209, Songjiang Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City; telephone: 02-25180207), or you can place orders online through the Government Books Store website.
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Visit counts:91 Last updated on:2024-01-08