“I recently wrote up an account of a trip to Taiwan in December 2014 where we went to watch birds and do some cycling LINK. On our journey, as we were travelling up from the south and were guided by Richard Foster, the first stop on the bird watching trip was a visit to the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve.
“This brief article is to highlight Taiwan’s success with conservation and hopefully serve as an encouragement to us. Taiwan has two bird conservation success stories. One is the world-wide endangered Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) which winters at Tsengwen River estuary on Taiwan’s Southwest Coast. Some estimates say that almost two thirds of the world population now winters in Taiwan. The other, the focus of this article, is the Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) which is endangered in Taiwan.
“Although the global population Pheasant-tailed Jacanas are in excess of 100,000 individuals LINK, by the 1990s the once common bird in Taiwan was becoming endangered due to loss of habitat and was found only in Tainan. In the 1990s a planned, massive, north-south high-speed railroad (Taiwan High Speed Train project) threatened the birds further by cutting through their natural wetlands at Hulipu/Guantien.
“This galvanised NGOs, bird watchers, environmentalist, teachers and students to advocate to save these birds. Beside media articles to sensitise the public they also engaged in ecological studies.
“As a result the government required an environmental evaluation report of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation’s plans. A review of the report in 1994 stated that the section of the railways involving the wet lands could not be constructed “without submitting specific protection plans and obtaining …. consent” of the authorities. By 1997 the Wetland Taiwan and Wild Bird Association had teamed up to launch the “Urgently save Pheasant-tailed Jacanas Committee” LINK.
“The organisation of interested individuals and NGOs led to detailed, serial (monthly) records of the Pheasant-tailed Jacana numbers in 1998-1999, which showed that only 30-70 birds were present at any one time. They all occurred in the Water Caltrops/Chestnut (Trapa bicornis) ‘fields’ and this was the only breeding location for the birds. Recognised reasons for the reduction in numbers was the seasonal change in farming between Rice (winter) and Water Chestnut in the same fields (summer) and the use of pesticides in farmland.
“The Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve project was launched in 1999 with approval from the Environmental Protection Administration and with sizeable funding from the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation (THSRC), who had found it a better option to work with the environmentalists than face negative publicity. The project was coordinated with the Tainan County Government, THSRC, Forest Bureau of the Council of Agriculture and Chinese Wild Bird Federation. 15 hectares in Tainan County was put aside to develop a wetlands habitat; what was previously a commercial sugarcane plantation. The site was chosen in proximity to the existing breeding site and with access to natural water sources.
“A presentation with good images of the development and progress of the project can be found here (pdf file) HERE.
“Many volunteers were instrumental in making the project a success. Also important was the involvement of the people of Tainan County with the Pheasant-tailed Jacana ‘elected’ as the county bird in 1997. Farmers were also engaged and an award programme instituted by the Tainan County government.
The Outcome/Success of the Conservation Efforts
“These conservation efforts have boosted the population of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas to 600 in 2014 at the reserve and surrounding areas. BirdLife International acknowledges the area as an ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas’ with more than 105 species documented LINK. The area also hosts 3-4,000 winter migrants, especially waders.
“In 2008 the site has been ‘transformed into an ecological education park’ and serves to highlight a wetland ecological system that supports a variety of aquatic plants, insects and animal life. It now serves as a ‘natural economical classroom to educate citizens and students’ LINK.
“The site has come to the attention of the world community through the visits of Dr. Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist and conservationist. She visited the site in 2000, 2008 and 2014, and has used it as a case study in her lectures worldwide LINK.
Our Visit and Summary
“At the time my wife and I used and benefited from the excellent Taiwan High Speed Rail service, we were unaware of the history behind this marvellous project. Having seen it first hand, we are pleased to know that care has been taken to provide a home for these graceful birds, while allowing for infrastructure development. A visit to the site in winter is a feast of migratory waders and wetlands birds. The Pheasant-tailed Jacanas are very easy to watch and a delight to see.
“The ‘Jacana Fields’ of Taiwan will remain as a highlight of our visit, not merely for the birds we saw but more importantly as an example of mankind offering the space and resources for other inhabitants of this world to live together. The people of Taiwan serve as an example to us that advocacy for wildlife can galvanise a community to take responsibility to cherish our environment.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS