China.org – Yang Xi
The Chinese Crested Tern is the most endangered bird to date in China. This bird’s common name indicates its close relationship with China. In 1863 scientists gave the bird a Latin name – “Sternabernsteni” but Chinese also call the animal “Shenhua Zhinao” or the “Mythical Bird”, because it is rare and mysterious.
“There are less than fifty Chinese Crested Terns in China,” Chen Shuihua, deputy curator of Museum of Natural History of Zhejiang Province and also the most authoritative expert on Chinese Crested Terns research, said. He did not disclose the exact number. The number of Chinese Crested Terns around the world has reduced by half in the past three years, according to a survey.
The earliest record of the Chinese Crested Terns in China dates from 1863. In 1937, Chinese scientists collected 21 specimens of the birds, including 15 females and 6 males near Qingdao in Shandong Province. Few similar records were made in the following sixty-three years. Some scientists only kept minimal records without photos in the Beidaihe Region in Hebei Province (1978) and in the Yellow River Delta of Dongying in Shandong Province (1991). Many ornithologists believed that the birds were extinct.
Surprisingly, in June 2004 an avian photographer from Taiwan, Liang Jiede, took pictures and unexpectedly found four adult pairs of Chinese Crested Terns and four juvenile birds in his photos after developing his film.
In 2003 Chen Shuihua began to lead an investigation into propagating sea birds along the coastal areas of Zhejiang Province, while putting emphasis on Chinese Crested Terns.
Chen Shuihua led a group out to sea to start another investigation in June 2004 because he wanted to set a new record. “None of the ornithologists had gone to sea to do their investigations due to the danger and expense, so little investigation into sea birds in China has ever been carried out,” Chen said. Unfortunately, his investigation did not have a happy ending.
Chen Shuihua set out to the sea several times in 2004 during the sea birds’ breeding season from June to August. Chen’s group found almost twenty Chinese Crested Terns on August 1, 2004 in the central coastal areas of Zhejiang Province.
The main reason for the sharp decrease of Chinese Crested Terns is due to rampant collecting of sea bird eggs. These rare birds will go extinct in five years if such illegal practices are not forbidden, according to an article published by the Bird Life International.
Chen Shuihua has identified the Chinese Crested Tern as a flagship specimen of the marine ecosystem. He believes that the extinction of this bird would mean the destruction of the entire marine ecosystem, so he strongly advocates protecting all sea birds.
Bird Life International has suggested that the mainland and Taiwan should cooperate in rescue efforts directed at Chinese Crested Terns.
This July in Taiwan Chen Shuihua was invited to participate in a meeting that focused on how to create a cooperative effort to protect Chinese Crested Terns. Chen has worked out a five-year plan for their protection. “I hope that efficient measures can be enforced within five years to ensure the successful breeding and survival of these birds and that we can make more detailed investigations in order to obtain greater understanding about these birds,” Chen said.