Irresponsible bird photographers pose a threat to nature

By Chen Liang ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-05-30 07:43:28

 Irresponsible bird photographers pose a threat to nature

A seagull rests at the boat in the bay of Chenjia village at the foot of the Laotie Hill in Lyushun, Liaoning province.Chen Liang / China Daily

We Chinese seem to have the tendency to enjoy anything foreign with Chinese characteristics. As a birdwatcher, I have witnessed how we have turned a Western hobby into a Chinese-style obsession in the past 11 years.

In 2004 when I started the recreational activity, which was born in Britain and North America in the late 19th century, it was considered an environmental-friendly thing that would help raise our environmental awareness, which supposedly lagged far behind those in the West. It had been advocated by a Beijing-based grassroots environmental NGO (Green Earth Volunteers) since 1996, even though as I knew, the NGO founder had never been a birdwatcher. So many of the first Chinese birdwatchers were college students, environmental NGOs' members or volunteers and were truly green.

We gathered at an online chatroom, sponsored by World Wide Fund for Nature's China office, spreading sighting news of "rarities", discussing identity details of different species, sharing bird photos and arranging birding trips around the country. Everybody was known to the others.

There might have been just a couple hundreds of birdwatchers in the whole country until 2005. In many major cities except Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, the populations of birdwatchers were often single digits. Birders in the same city were usually close friends.

The things-to-buy priority list for everyone was almost same - a decent binocular first, and then a telescope. DLSR cameras and telephoto lens were luxuries and very few could afford them. In the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, a telephoto lens was shared by several birders who lived in different cities.

Along with the popularity of digital photography from 2006 to 2010, we began to see amateur bird photographers appearing in the fields. They were usually older - in their 50s or 60s, had high-end photography gear, but had no binoculars hanging on their chests. They liked asking birders "What's bird it is?" by showing photos on their cameras. We would tell them the birds' IDs and where to find more, with a sense of superiority.

Gradually, however, we found ourselves being outnumbered by them. Many of them were businessmen and governmental officials. They were richer, had more free time and could invest more social and economic resources into their new hobby. They began to dominate some of the country's best birding sites, raise prices of birding guides and accommodations. Our sense of superiority turned sour.

Then we found out that many of them didn't truly care about the birds, probably because they knew little of avian life and nature photography. They created irresponsible ways to take "excellent" photographs and were spoiling our hobby.

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