Air drops readied for starving birds
Mainland authorities have drawn up plans to air-drop shrimp and maize to feed hundreds of thousands of birds facing starvation as a result of a severe drought affecting the country's largest freshwater lake.
Poyang Lake, in Jiangxi, has shrunk to less than 200 square kilometres, about 5 per cent of the area it can reach at full capacity, Xinhua reports.
The water level at the Duchang hydrometric station fell to 7.95 metres last week, the lowest in the six decades records have been kept.
A publicity official at the Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve Authority said it was ready to implement the air drop if needed.
'We have this plan to be prepared for emergencies,' she said yesterday. 'We have staff [who] patrol around the lake every day and once they find birds dead of hunger, we think that means food is in short supply and it's the time for humans to add more food.'
Poyang Lake, one of the biggest wintering grounds in Asia for migratory birds such as the hooded crane, has received half a million birds this winter, Xinhua said.
Although it has been drying up because of a big drop in rainfall since last spring, the population of migrating birds has not declined, an official from the reserve authority's scientific research department said.
'It's probably because the waters in nearby provinces, like Hubei and Anhui, have also shrunk, and the birds originally flying to those waters in winter have diverted to fly here,' he said. 'If that's the case, it's not good for Poyang Lake and will worsen the food crisis, because we ourselves don't have enough food [for birds] due to the drought.'
Reserve authority party secretary Wu Heping said it was planning to use a helicopter to drop food, including millet, maize, fish and shrimp.
At the beginning of 2008, when Poyang Lake and other parts of southern China were hit by heavy snow, local authorities marshalled staff to walk into the lake area to feed birds.
Wu said air delivery was being considered for the first time this year because birds searching for food were distributed more sparsely. Many birds have flown to Poyang Lake's nine satellite lakes, and some have even entered nearby farmland.
He said 200,000 birds had gathered at two satellite lakes, with a total area of only 90,000 square metres, where there was still plenty of water and grass. Air-dropping food could encourage the colony to disperse and reduce the risk of a bird flu outbreak.
Water supplies for 120,000 people living near the lake are also threatened, Xinhua reported.