Beijing's 'Uncle Duckling', Qu Xisheng, is a hero to animal-lovers. He has been named this year's Animal Welfare Education Champion - the first Chinese citizen to be given the award. The 50-year-old, who manages a paddle-boat rental company, built a sanctuary for wild ducks on Houhai lake in central Beijing, in his spare time. Thanks to his efforts, the lake area, around 2km north of Tiananmen Square, is now full of wild ducks. He received the honour from the International Fund for Animal Welfare for creating 'a harmonious relationship between man and animals'. Mr Qu has dedicated himself to protecting his feathered friends, but says he was not always an avid defender of ducks. An incident three years ago changed his outlook on life. Two of his employees found a pair of duck eggs in one of their boats. 'I was astonished when I heard one of them turn to the other and say: 'It's going to be duck eggs for lunch today'.' Mr Qu put the eggs in a safe place. He kept his eyes open for others and soon built up a small collection. The following spring he found he had about a dozen chicks following him around. This was at a time his domestic- appliance store was struggling, and Mr Qu found himself visiting the lake often to enjoy the peace and quiet. Watching wild ducks pass elegantly over the lake, he decided to sell his shop and dedicate himself to ducks. Using reeds and branches, he painstakingly constructed a 44 sq metre island refuge for the ducks and other birds. Before long, more than 100 wild ducks had made the island their home. Mr Qu built them a shelter and is kept busy carrying out repairs around the island. During the winter, he breaks the ice to create a playground for the ducks. Jeff He, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said Mr Qu had greatly improved the Houhai lake area. 'You cannot but be impressed with his respect for life,' he said.