Inside Job: anti-bird poaching patroller

This month, Frank Hersey takes on bird poachers

Hiding behind a tree waiting for the police to come, with Time Out photographer Ma Ke looking for a weapon, is a first for Inside Job. We’ve graduated from hatchlings to fully fledged anti-poaching patrollers in the few hours since 5.30am. 'Fully fledged' apart from the fact we we’re hiding from the poachers, who’d come back to their trap.


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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

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By: Frank Hersey
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