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Wed, Jul 05, 2000 - Page 2 News List

`Eight-color bird' sparks new environmental row

CONSERVATION Taiwan has found itself in the international spotlight yet again after a clash between local bird-watchers and the gravel-extracting industry

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

According to research, Huben village in Yunlin County is one of the most important habitats for the Fairy Pitta, the so-called `eight-color bird.'

PHOTO: THE WILD BIRD FEDERATION OF TAIWAN

An assault on a bird-watcher has shone an international spotlight on the struggle of Taiwan conservationists to save a rare species from the ravages of gravel extractors.

The assault took place in Huben village (湖本村) in Linnei township (林內鄉), Yunlin County, on June 18, when over 100 bird-watchers were gathered at the start of a one-day bird-watching tour.

An irritated villager slapped Yin Lin-in (尹伶瑛), the village warden, across the face, claiming that information contained in leaflets for bird-watchers was an insult to her family. The leaflets had claimed that habitats for rare birds at nearby Pillow Hill would be damaged by future deforestation caused by gravel extraction.

Terrified, Yin went to her parents' home in eastern Taiwan in order, briefly, to distance herself from what Chinese-language newspapers have described as complex, local factional rivalries. She returned to Huben, however, where she has lived with her husband since 1980.

"I had to come back to fight, not only for the innocent villagers of Huben but for several rare birds for whom the locale is their habitat," Yin told the Taipei Times.

Rare birds at

Pillow Hill

Yin, a bird conservationist, first found herself in the midst of controversy last August when Yunlin County Government, in order to meet demand created by continuing road development, approved an application for gravel exploitation at Pillow Hill (枕頭山), a site proposed by conservationists for designation as an important wildlife habitat.

Since then, the sleepy agricultural village covering 300 hectares of land has been swarming with activity.

Local conservationists started to obstruct the development work, and claimed that they had discovered 97 species of bird there, including several rare varieties.

Of all of these, the fairy pitta, known in Chinese as the "eight-color bird" (八色鳥) has the most eye-catching appearance. It also has a limited population.

Lin Ruey-shing (林瑞興), a researcher at the Council of Agriculture's (COA) Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI台灣特有生物中心), has found 40 such birds during a preliminary survey -- underway since April -- of 70 hectares of land at Pillow Hill.

Conservationists at the Chinese Wild Bird Federation (Taiwan) (中華鳥會) are encouraged by Lin's research, saying that the number of these birds in Huben village alone is more than in the entire Korean peninsula.

According to the federation, the fairy pitta ranges further north than any other member of its genus, breeding in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, and migrating to Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Sightings of migrating fairy pittas have also been recorded in North Korea and Vietnam.

Conservationists soon joined forces with Yin in Huben village to fight developers from neighboring cities. According to protesters, some developers even set off firecrackers to scare the rare birds away.

Conservationists argued that the natural environment in Huben would be destroyed completely if the Yunlin County Government followed precedent and kept approving applications for gravel exploitation.

Some questioned the approved application itself, saying that no environmental impact assessment had been carried out and that the application had been badly reviewed.

Local birds but an international issue

Soon, aligned with 73 foreign groups in 20 countries, the federation launched an international petition on the Internet to save the home of the Taiwanese eight-color birds. The petition caught the attention of BirdLife International (國際鳥盟), an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to the protection of birds.

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