Zhao Shiwei: Bred and Rescued over 200 Red-Crowned Cranes

Zhao Shiwei and his team have bred and rescued more than 200 red-crowned cranes and released them into the wild after ensuring they will be able to survive in the wild. Despite doing this for 30 years and loving every moment of it, Zhao’s greatest wish is to see his enclosure in Panjin City, Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, free of cranes.

The red-crowned crane is a national first-class protected wildlife, with the coastal wetlands of Panjin City being one of its important resting, wintering, and breeding grounds in the East Asia-Australasia Flyway for birds.

But due to environmental and ecological damage, the number of red-crowned cranes migrating to the Liaohe River estuary had been continuously declining when Zhao joined work at the Zhaoquan River Management Station, which is part of the Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve in Panjin, in 1992.

Artificial breeding of red-crowned cranes became an important part of Zhao’s work. Three red-crowned crane chicks hatched at the station through artificial insemination in 1996. The sight of red-crowned crane chicks emerging from the eggs was extremely exciting for Zhao. “At that moment … I felt that I had found something very meaningful in life,” Zhao said.

Last year, a record 85 red-crowned crane chicks hatched at the station through a combination of artificial insemination and natural breeding methods. Over the past 30 years, Zhao has trained many apprentices, but he has always been personally involved in the hatching process. “This part is the most crucial; there cannot be the slightest mistake,” he said.

Starting in 2010, during the bird migration season, stray cranes have been flying into the reserve and staying for a long time. That prompted Zhao to release several artificially bred adult male red-crowned cranes into the wild every year so they could form families with their wild partners and increase the wild crane population in Panjin.

“The method has proved quite effective. We often see two pairs of cranes leisurely foraging by the roadside or riverbank, and they are not as afraid of people as a totally wild pair or flock would be. Sometimes, they even fly with their chicks to visit the station,” Zhao said, calling himself not only a trainer of red-crowned cranes but also a matchmaker.


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