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Stage set for recovery of green peacock

By Zhang Lei | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-17 10:27

Peacock on the Tip of the Heart, a play to raise awareness about the protection of green peacock in Yunnan province, is presented by college volunteers in Beijing on Tuesday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Little did Xi Zhinong, the founder of Wild China Film, a private organization dedicated to documentation and protection of China's endangered wildlife, realize that the photos he took of the green peacock in Yunnan province 20 years ago were actually images of an endangered species and that soon they would face an unprecedented survival crisis.

Today, the green peacock is, officially, an endangered species. According to a survey by the Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, their population is estimated to be less than 500, and it has now become one of China's most endangered wildlife species, even rarer than the giant panda.

In an attempt to raise awareness, and foster a deeper understanding of the green peacock, Wild China Film teamed up with college students in Beijing to present a stage play at Star Theaters on Tuesday. The play, not surprisingly, is themed on the peacock.

The play, Peacock on the Tip of the Heart, brings together for the first time on the stage volunteers who are passionate about animal protection in Beijing's universities.

Hong Ziqian, producer of the play, who studies at the Drama Education Department of the Central Academy of Drama, says she hopes the play can get its crucial message across.

Hong volunteered at the Tianjin Raptor Rescue Station and the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center, and carried out field investigations in Gaoligong Mountain in Yunnan province and Xianghai in Jilin province. She co-founded the Animal Protection Association of the Central Academy of Drama, and launched the Beijing University Ecological Protection Public Welfare Alliance in 2019.

"What we want to achieve through the play is the core function of theatrical drama in exploring human nature in depth, and the preservation of the green peacock relates to this goal," she says.

The plot centers on Lu Yiming, a researcher on the protection of green peacocks, who treks deep into the animal's habitat in the upper reaches of the Red River in Yunnan.

Lu meets villagers who hunt green peacocks. With the help of volunteers, he manages to establish a community-themed protection mechanism, allowing villagers to participate in conservation, and inspire more people to protect the green peacock.

Meng Haowei, director of the play, who once led theatrical directing at Beijing No 15 High School's drama club, highlights the role of two characters as the pillar of the plot.

In the play, Zhao Sihan, a girl who always wants to be the focus of attention, comes to protect the green peacock without knowing much about it at first, but uses it as an internet publicity gimmick. In observing Lu's dedication, Zhao gradually realizes the urgency of protecting the green peacock, and evolves into a qualified animal protection volunteer.

Another role-changing character is a local villager who at first is shown to loathe the peacock and hunt them ruthlessly out of the despair he felt at losing his mother. He unfairly blamed peacock protection efforts for the loss of his mother. But in the end he too protects the bird and helps villagers pursue sustainable agriculture.

The casting was completed two months ago, and rehearsals went smoothly.

Meng says the play presents a feast of special effects and set designs. "We have five sliding canvases on track, with each featuring a peacock in different postures in traditional Chinese painting to showcase Yunnan's ethnic traits and marking the transition of each scene. Chinese bamboo flute and the chirping sound effect of the birds are employed to hint at the plot twist."

The hero of the play, Lu Yiming, is loosely based on the research work of Gu Bojian, a postgraduate student who worked at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In March 2017, Gu heard a high-pitched chirp of the green peacock in the dry and hot valley of the Red River in Yunnan. The open floodplains and beaches at the bottom of the river valley had become their habitat. Later, Gu discovered that on the Gasa River, the main tributary of the Red River, work on a hydropower project, the Jiasha River First Stage Power Station, had begun. The station threatens the green peacock's habitat.

Gu posted the situation on his WeChat's friend circle, but saw little feedback. Xi Zhinong from Wild China Film contacted him and led a team to conduct a special survey in the Red River Basin. He took an important picture of the green peacock drinking water in the Xiaojiang River Valley.

Environmental protection organizations Wild China, Friends of Nature and the Shanshui Nature Conservation Center jointly issued an urgent letter to the former Ministry of Environmental Protection (now the Ministry of Ecology and Environment), calling for an immediate stop of the station's construction, and for authorities to reevaluate the local ecology, especially the impact on protected species such as green peacocks and their habitats.

In August 2017, construction of the hydropower project was suspended after Friends of Nature filed a public interest lawsuit.

Shi Lihong, another founder of Wild China Film, who has worked to produce the play based on peacock protection, says all the actors and actresses have volunteered without any pay simply out of their compassion for wildlife.

Shi says the theatrical drama can ignite an infectious enthusiasm compared with more traditional methods such as photography. She calls for more enterprises to join and provide sponsorship for their performance to help the play to reach a larger audience.



Peacock on the Tip of the Heart, a play to raise awareness about the protection of green peacock in Yunnan province, is presented by college volunteers in Beijing on Tuesday. [Photo provided to China Daily]



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