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Protecting wild birds will require the consolidated efforts of wildlife authorities, bird enthusiasts and the public, plus a comprehensive review of the environmental situation inside and outside nature reserves, wildlife experts said.
"After several years of wildlife monitoring and evaluation at the administration, I realized that solo efforts by a local institution were unlikely to have a major impact on conservation," said Lei Gang, head of the Freshwater Program at the World Wildlife Fund China.
Lei led the research department of the East Dongting Lake National Nature Reserve Administration in Hunan province until 2002.
He said his research at the nature reserve was confined to a limited geographical area, but solving problems related to wild species, especially migratory birds that travel thousands of kilometers a year, demands a wider perspective.
"The diversity of bird species is so large and complicated that the administration alone was unable to count and conserve them as expected," he said.
In 2002, Lei started an annual bird-watching competition in an attempt to draw more attention from the media and bird-watchers to conservation efforts at the lake.
So far, about 100 new bird species have been identified by participants in the competition, he said. Meanwhile, the reserve"s website said it had recorded 348 species by April.
"Back at the beginning of the century, the team at the administration was loose and disorganized, but the media that swarmed to the lake as the competition gained fame prompted the authorities to stop slacking," he said.
The number of administration staff members at the nature reserve has risen to about 70, and 18 cameras have been set up in key areas to monitor illegal activities.
Meanwhile, the issuance of administrative penalties is now shared by the nature reserve administration and the local forestry bureau, which has greatly improved the legal force exerted on offenders.
The benefits brought by training the spotlight on the lake have exceeded Lei"s expectations - public awareness of wildlife conservation has been enhanced, communication between bird experts has offered fresh insights and new measures and policies have been introduced.
Last year, the number of water birds - mostly migratory species - seen at the lake rose by 20 percent from 2016.
Meanwhile, about 108 white cranes, a critically endangered species, were spotted earlier this year, breaking the previous record of 76, according to Lei.
In 2003, he began working for the World Wildlife Fund, and helped to establish a freshwater program that focused on improving monitoring technologies along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
"It"s impossible for a single administration to make progress on such a large scale," Lei said.
"I am seeing a pattern here that pools the strengths of governments, NGOs, experts and the public."
However, some species are still vulnerable to offenders as a result of loopholes in the supervision network.
Lei said most poaching, including the use of mist nets and tranquilizer drugs, occurs close to the edges of the reserve, which are not covered by the cameras.
Lei Chunguang, dean of the School of Nature Conservation at Beijing Forestry University, has noticed a number of mist nets during frequent field studies at Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province.
"Concerted efforts to fight poachers are primarily devoted to areas where migratory birds change direction or land, thus leaving themselves more vulnerable to poachers who lie in wait. The efforts are playing a major role in cracking down on this illegal activity," he said. "However, poaching is still rampant in areas that are not covered by the regulations and attract few visitors."
He said pollution and illegal human activities that go unchecked at Poyang Lake mean the number of species where the population is rising is smaller than those where numbers are declining.
"We should understand that the environment is a whole entity, not a slew of islands that can be separated as individual nature reserves," he added.