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Conservators Protect Animals, Plants amid Disastrous Weather

Forty-seven-year-old Wang Riguang clad himself in thick outfits, carried some 60 kilos of corns on his back and set out again into the snow, to feed the macaques.

The conservator, also a local villager, worked in "wild monkey valley", in the southwestern part of the scenery area of Mount Huangshan in east China's Anhui Province. The area is famed for distinctive pines and pristine landscapes.

In the past few weeks when the mountains were plastered with snow, conservators like Wang had to work overtime to make sure that the protected animals were well-fed and warm.

"The snow was unusually thick this year, so we went out to build new shelters, walk more rounds, and increase feeds to the animals," he said, "I was glad to see that none of them starved or died from frost."

Every day, Wang trekked some 30 kilometers in the mountains to feed the 73 Huangshan macaques, a type of primate on the state list of rare and protected animals.

"I had to put skid proof sandals over my shoes, and every time I returned I was soaked in sweat and melted snow," he said. His legs are covered with plasters covering injuries he got from tumbling in the snow.

In order to better care the animals, Wang even gave names to the monkeys, like "white eyebrow", "bulky", and "rocky". "Twice a day, I called the roll to make sure no macaque was missing," he said.

The Anhui Province is among areas worst hit by more than three weeks of snow, a phenomenon not seen in half a century. Statistics show that 18.6 million hectares of forest have been damaged in the snow-afflicted regions across China.

Persistent snow from early January also threatened the lives of wild fowls after burying meals for the birds that feed on grass seeds or fishes and shrimps in shoals.

Although no nationwide figures are available on the loss of wild fowls and animals, some nature reserves have reported fewer migrating birds after the snow. In the Poyang Lake Nature Reserve in east China's Jiangxi Province, about 200,000 wild fowls were spotted before the snow, but so far only 40,000 of them have been found as the freeze-ups end.

Luo Shengjin, deputy director of the reserve, said the data may not be holistic as some of the fowls may have migrated to neighboring areas, but they were indeed worried about possible losses.

Since late January, the reserve had spent 100,000 yuan (about 13,800 U.S. dollars) to buy grain, corn and vegetables and spread in the area as feeds, he said.

Ji Weitao, director of the reserve, said no mass deaths of fowls have been discovered and they are planning to rent helicopters to investigate into the whereabouts of the birds.

Elsewhere, conservators likewise joined with railway workers, traffic police and electricians in the nationwide battle against the extreme weather.

In the Huangshan scenic area, at least one conservation worker was assigned to take care of each rare pine tree and prevent them from being over laden and crushed by snow. Bamboo trees were trucked in to hold up pine tree branches, and workers climbed up ladders to broom off snowflakes.

In the Shengjin Lake protection area in Anhui, villagers voluntarily placed their grain and corn on the wetland to feed the fowls.

Wang Jinshan, Party secretary of Anhui, called on the people to distribute grains in parks and scenic areas to feed the birds during the snowstorms.

"The disaster is not only a test for humans, but a test for all species, including the animals and plants," said Wang, "in times of crisis, we need to help each other, and also help the animals to get over the difficulties," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 16, 2008)

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