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Saving China's endangered duck with funny hair

By LIU MINGTAI, ZHANG YU and RANDY WRIGHT |  China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-21 10:28

A female scaly­sided merganser and her chick sit at their nest in the reserve. ZHUO YONGSHENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

To the predators that pose a threat to our survival, and to the careless humans who increasingly approach our habitat, I have a message: Get off my lawn!

Shi Junhai, 49, a businessman who offers various tourist services on Changbaishan Mountain, volunteered in 2010 to help protect the reserve's Chinese mergansers. He hired people to guard against pollution and drive away predators in the vulnerable first few weeks of chicks' lives.

Shi said he has spent 100,000 yuan ($14,600) of his own money every year since 2010 to employ four or five workers.

It's simply because of the sheer beauty of the duck, he said, not to get any special credit.

If the ducks could understand, they would be grateful.


Piao first encountered the Chinese merganser in 1978 after he and a few colleagues at the reserve were assigned to find nests to study breeding behavior.

They spent four years searching the forests and rivers on Changbaishan Mountain before finally observing a brown-haired duck in flight over the Toudaobai River. In a blink, it vanished into its tree-trunk nest.

Piao was entranced from the start.

"I didn't know a duck's bill could be so slender, because normally ducks have wide, flat beaks," he said. He was also unaware that ducks could live in trees.

"Their colors and plumage remind me of an official from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The long hair reminds me of an official's hat decorated with peacock feathers," he said. "Their scaly flanks look something like an official's robe."

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