On their journey from frigid Siberia to the mild winter climate of central and southern China, many migratory birds have had their travels cut short by poachers.
The forestry police in Zhenglan Banner, a county in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, confirmed on Monday that a total of 233 tundra swans and 26 mallards had been found in Hongtu Lake on Oct. 19. Tests showed that the birds had been poisoned with carbofuran, a pesticide that was also used by poachers who killed hundreds of birds in April by lacing corn kernels with the chemical.
The police, who believe that poachers used a similar tactic this time, posted a reward of 30,000 yuan ($4,400) for clues about suspects. A day later, they raised the reward to 100,000 yuan. Tundra swans are listed as protected animals in China, and killing them is a crime that can lead to jail time.
Liu Changyong, an official in the publicity department of Zhenglan Banner’s county government, told Sixth Tone that he was surprised the mass death occurred in Inner Mongolia, as the swan is a kind of totem to locals. Hongtu Lake, where the birds were found, means “Lake of Swans” in the local dialect.
The population of snow-white tundra swans is widely distributed around the world. Lu Jun, director of China’s National Bird Banding Center, told Sixth Tone that researchers believe more than 10,000 tundra swans spend the winter in China every year.
However, migratory birds often fall victim to poaching. On Oct. 18, a day before the dead swans were discovered, China’s State Forestry Administration — the top wildlife administration in the country — started a 40-day operation to remove clap-nets used by bird poachers all over China.
Last year, three people were arrested for poisoning water birds at Dongting Lake, one of the country’s largest freshwater lakes and the winter home to many migratory birds in central China’s Hunan province.
“Most of the dead birds end up at restaurants,” Tian Yangyang, who works at environmental organization Let Birds Fly, told Sixth Tone. Two years ago, Tian discovered restaurants in southern China that offered “swan feasts” on their menus. Though many birds are killed with poison, “most people believe eating wild animals is healthy,” he said.
(Header image: Dead swans lie on the ground in Xilingol League, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. @yanyuanyirigui from Weibo)