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Looking Back on the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana's Journey of Restoration - Heartwarming Premiere of Jacana in the Water Caltrop Field Documentary

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201909/10
    This summer, Taiwan's total breeding population number of pheasant-tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) reached a new high of 1,024 adult birds. Guantian District in Tainan City accounted for 77% of the total, making it the area with the highest number of pheasant-tailed jacanas in Taiwan. In the past 20 years, through everyone's combined efforts, the pheasant-tailed jacana population has grown from an endangered 50 individuals to reaching stable growth. The collaboration between farmers, private organizations, enterprise, and the public sector along the way has also seen conflicts over values, communication and transformation, to integration and consensus.
    This exciting and legendary journey has had its fair share of ups and downs. 19 years of experiences are faithfully recorded in the documentary film Jacana in the Water Caltrop Field. Today (Sept. 10th), the Tainan Wild Bird Society and the Forestry Bureau of the Council of Agriculture gathered together for the film premiere at the Forestry Bureau International Conference Hall. All the partners involved in the restoration process and members of the public concerned with ecological conservation were invited to attend and look back on the memories of this journey together. The guests also shared their personal experiences and thoughts in speeches they gave. In addition to cherishing current results, they also expressed wishes for an even better future. The event atmosphere was heartwarming and moving.
 
From Critically Endangered to Stable Growth
    Guantian District is a major production hub for the water caltrop industry in Taiwan. The area has adopted the "rice and water caltrop in rotation" cultivation method. In addition to producing rice and water caltrops, the adoption of environmentally-friendly farming methods has helped make the vast fields the primary pheasant-tailed jacana habitat in Tainan City, as well as a refuge for field-dwelling creatures such as insects, frogs and additional waterfowl. The fields of Guantian holds value for ecosystem services such as agricultural production, cultural landscapes, and biodiversity. It might be difficult to imagine that in the 1990s, the local pheasant-tailed jacana population was almost wiped out due to many stressors, including habitat over-development and excessive use of pesticides.
    In 1990, the planned route of the Taiwan high-speed railway passed through Hulupi in Guantian District, Tainan City. In order to avoid the project impacting the habitat of the local pheasant-tailed jacana, Tainan City Government negotiated with Taiwan Sugar Corporation to lease 15 hectares of land in Longtian Farm, Guantian District. This land served as the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Restoration Area. Artificial ponds and a wetland were created to provide a breeding ground for the jacanas, and thus ensure maintaining a core population. Since 2007, in order to strengthen the Park's wetland ecological education abilities, the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Restoration Area was renamed as the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Habitat Education Park. Through continuous effort, the number of pheasant-tailed jacanas has continued to grow steadily, from the once-endangered status to the present stable population.
    Since 2006, the Forestry Bureau has provided funding to the Tainan Wild Bird Society for the restoration of pheasant-tailed jacanas in the Guantian area. The funding has allowed creating habitats in which pheasant-tailed jacanas can breed and find food, as well as promoting environmental education. At the same time, the Tainan City Government implemented conservation incentives for pheasant-tailed jacana restoration and a subsidy for pheasant-tailed jacana nesting sites. After the jacana collective poisoning incident in 2009, the Forestry Bureau also collaborated with the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF) and the Park to promote the Farmland Ecological Conservation and Construction - Green Conservation Label Certification action plan. This plan guides farmers in areas surrounding the Park to not use pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and to adopt environmentally friendly farming methods. In addition, the Guantian District Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Habitat Cooperation Agreement was signed with the farmers, in order to retain appropriate wetlands from December to January every year to ensure the safety of the jacanas when they feed in winter.
 
19 Years in the Making: The Legendary Tale of Jacana Conservation
    In 2000, Jacana in the Water Caltrop Field, film producer Chiu Tsai-chou began shooting the process of bringing the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Habitat Education Park to existence. After the jacana mass poisoning incident in 2009, Chiu Tsai-chou also accompanied Park staff in retrieving the jacana carcasses. Over many years, she has faithfully documented the journey of jacana conservation and all its hardships.
    Back in the days, there was no example to follow in constructing a jacana habitat. Through the promotion of private organizations such as the Chinese Wild Bird Federation and the Tainan Wild Bird Society, corporate donations from the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation, and supervision and assistance from Tainan City Government, the Railway Bureau of the MOTC, and the Forestry Bureau of the Council of Agriculture, literature was collected and overseas jacana habitat models were used as references. Freshwater ponds were artificially excavated on dry land, and aquatic plants such as water caltrops (genus Trapa), prickly water lilies (Euryale ferox), pygmy water lilies (Nymphaea tetragona), and water snowflakes (Nymphoides indica) were planted to create a habitat suitable for pheasant-tailed jacanas. Many issues are faced in the management of the habitats in the Park, such as the removal of lotuses, and the removal of exotic species such as the snakehead murrel (Channa striata), walking catfish (Clarias batrachus), and the golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata). Management also requires prevention and control of water caltrop pests and diseases, and managing competition between hydrophyte plants and dominant plants. All of the work depends on the efforts of a group of senior farm workers and enthusiastic partners.
    Over the past 19 years, the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Habitat Education Park has gone fighting for the species’ survival, to now having a 100-strong permanent jacana population, with around 100 jacana chicks hatched every year. Together with the environmentally-friendly farming methods advocated for the surrounding farmlands, the Park has become a refuge for the birds as well as a resource center for the farmers. In addition to jacana habitat management, ecological monitoring survey, and environmental education within the Park, Satoyama concepts have also been incorporated, promoting environmentally-friendly farming methods to neighboring communities, and integrating farming community tourism designed around jacana conservation. Young local farmers are invited to act as lecturers, while direct face-to-face discussions with local senior farmers and environmentally-friendly farmers have been arranged. This all helps promote the concepts of ecological conservation and selling eco-friendly agricultural products, creating a sustainable "three-in-one" model of "production", "lifestyle", and "habitat".
 
Environmentally-Friendly Farming Is Everybody's Responsibility
    In recent years, the public sector and the private sector have vigorously promoted environmentally-friendly farming methods, but can the "three-in-one" model really be achieved? The jacana restoration work has given us the answer. The film documents two farmers, Lin Ping-huo and Chen Hung-wei, who refuse to give up environmentally-friendly farming method, despite increased costs and yields lower than what they were accustomed to in the past. They work hard to solve the myriad problems faced by the farmlands; they work out of a deep sense of sharing, co-existence, and co-prosperity with other living things. Director Chiu Tsai-chou said, even more movingly, "The Green Conservation Label is a change that comes from the heart. It is the willingness to share sustenance with other animals, so that people and animals can live together."
    "A-Mei" is another farmer featured in the documentary. Although she still uses customary farming methods, she is willing to leave out some extra rice grains for the birds to eat; whatever the birds don't eat will then sprout. However, can conservation rely solely on farmers' "voluntary merit"? Forestry Bureau Director General Lin Hwa-Ching pointed out that the aim of environmentally-friendly farming methods is to maintain good farmland ecological environments, so that wildlife populations will increase. Therefore, farmers' increased costs and reduced economic benefits should not be borne by the farmers alone. "Because, when a wildlife habitat is maintained, the resulting public welfare value is shared by the people, so the price paid should also be borne by the people together. This is the concept of payments for ecosystem services (PES)".
    The Satoyama concept originated in Japan, but has already taken root in many communities around Taiwan. Jacana in the Water Caltrop Field documents the implementation of Satoyama concepts by a group of people in Guantian District who have taken practical action. The film is also an appeal to all sectors of society, to cherish the unique agricultural rotation system of rice and water caltrops in the Guantian area. Through a culture of agricultural conservation, we can protect important pheasant-tailed jacana habitats, and thus become guardians to these sprightly creatures so that their beauty can live on in Taiwan forever.
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