Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The egg sitters

In Taitung City, students and retirees have taken two Black-naped Orioles under their wing

By Sam Sky Wild  /  Contributing reporter

Black-naped Orioles are listed as an endangered species.

Photo courtesy of Chu Chien-ming

Taitung City residents cried foul after hearing that a pair of rare birds in Forest Park (森林公園) was being targeted by poachers.

Of particular concern to the region’s nervous twitchers was that the Black-naped Orioles were expectant parents, and that once their eggs hatched, their twin chicks could command a price tag of up to NT$40,000 on the black market.

The birds, who had settled atop a conifer tree in the middle of the park’s golf range, didn’t just have to dodge whizzing golf balls. The Wild Bird Society of Taitung (台東縣野鳥學會) believed that canny bird poachers were hatching plans to erect a ladder under the cover of night in order to make off with the precious feathered cargo.

In response, the bird protection group marshaled its members — a 70-strong crew of mainly students and retirees — for a tree-side security vigil through the night.

“There are lots of people watching the birds and their chicks in the daytime so poachers wouldn’t dare to try and steal the hatchlings, but from 7pm until 7am we have been maintaining a guard … these chicks would fetch a high price, they are rare,” said Chu Chien-ming (朱建銘), a frontman of the bird monitoring group and a semi-retired ophthalmologist.

Originally discovered by golfers, the nesting pair was first reported to local bird experts. As word spread, bird-lovers swooped — cameras, notepads and flasks of tea in hand.

The feathered duo, while relatively numerous in southern Asia, is part of a domestic population that experts number at under 200.

The Council of Agriculture lists the gorgeous long-beaked creatures as an endangered species.

Success

A downtown Taitung shop specializing in awnings and shopping bags serves as the unlikely headquarters for the bird-saving vigilante. Here, Wild Bird Society of Taitung Director General Wang Keh-shiaw (王克孝) has been assisting stricken feathered friends for 20 years.

“The [Oriole] chicks have hatched and we’ll continue [the operation] until they fly away and that could be a few more days,” Wang said, lamenting the fact that people are still willing to compromise a vulnerable animal species for individual profit.

However, the self-taught veteran vet says the situation for endangered birds in Taitung is improving. He cites the 1989 passage of the Wildlife Conservation Act, which stipulates jail time of up to five years for poachers with fines reaching NT$1 million.

The chicks are now only days away from departing their much-photographed nest, and will soon be making their maiden journeys into the skies of southeastern Taiwan.

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