The tree we’re behind is in a wooded
wasteland, east of the Fifth Ring Road, and
just by a huge net – surrounded with caged
birds hooked in the trees to attract others –
that we’d discovered with Let Birds Fly’s Gu
Xuan, who goes by the name Silva.
Poaching is rife in China, says Silva.
Caught to be sold as pets or for their 'wild
taste', birds sell for anything from a couple
of hundred to hundreds of thousands of RMB.
After finding the net because of the
birdcall mp3 loop being played through
loudspeakers in the trees to attract birds,
Silva gets us to hide. 'Let’s hope the poachers
come back soon so we can grab them!' he
says after calling and WeChatting the forest
police, and before disappearing into the
trees, certain that an operation of this scale
means more nets.
It seems the poachers had seen us head to
the trap because they circle around looking
for us. A man comes within two metres of me
and Ma Ke, but thankfully doesn’t see us.
We message Silva, who tells us he’s 'grabbed' another poacher and had we
apprehended ours? Negative. With the
magic of location sharing we find Silva a few
hundred metres away on a cement track.
He’s holding on to the side of a three-wheeler
with an oldish man in it.
It’s now an hour and a half since Silva
called the police and the man under citizen’s
arrest is agitated and chain smoking. He and
Silva talk about the crime of poaching. 'I’m
old and disabled. They’re not going to do
anything so what’s the point?' says the man. 'There’s more traps down there,' he says,
motioning down the track. Silva dispatches
me to go and listen for traps. I don’t find any,
and when I get back to the track the old man
has broken free and is making a getaway on
his trike. 'We could’t keep him. But we’ve got
his birds,' says Silva.
The birds are overheating. It’s 11am and
over 30 degrees. We take them into the
shade, and as we go back to dismantle the trap we find a bag with more caged bait
birds. They’re dying of heat exhaustion and
stress so Silva takes a mouthful of water and
sprays it out over each bird.
The police arrive. They’ve clearly dealt
with this before and quickly start taking
down the net. There aren’t enough scissors
to free the birds so one takes a lighter and
gently burns a pine bunting free. A couple
are already dead from the heat, stress and
cuts from the net.
We then find the biggest trap Silva has
ever seen. Six or seven metres high and
around 15 metres wide, but with another,
slightly smaller trap set at 90 degrees to it,
forming an L shape. A policeman deftly cuts
free a sparrow from the smaller net, only for
it to fly straight into the larger.
Finally Silva and I head back to collect
bags of nets we’d found and hidden in the
wasteland that morning. 'It’s like Chernobyl
– the people have gone, but the animals are
coming back,' says Silva.
Heatstroke starts to set in as we part.
Silva goes home to do the rest of his job –
reporting, blogging, tweeting – while I go
back to bed.