NANNING, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- At noon, Wei Zuoren turns on a radio in his cornfield and turns it up to maximum volume to scare away monkeys from the nearby mountains that frequently steal his maturing corn.
"The number of the monkeys has been rising in recent years since the government has urged us to return land to the forest, and the animals often come in groups to eat the corn," said Wei, a villager in Jingsheng Village in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. "I once used a scarecrow in the field, but the monkeys soon discovered the truth."
Wei's village was once part of a vast rocky area that faced desertification due to decades of logging. Villagers largely rely on the industry to make a living, but others grow corn, though harvests have always been poor. The unsustainable industries not only turned the lush green mountains into fields of rocks, but also scared away the wild monkeys that once roamed the forests.
"By the 1990s, it was quite rare to see a wild monkey in this area," said a local official.
In 2001, a national policy encouraged people to return land to forestry in order to restore Guangxi's environment. Local governments also created high-yield agriculture, built farms for people to fend off poverty and helped villagers find jobs in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province, the economic powerhouse in south China and Guangxi's neighbor to the east.
Fifteen years on, the efforts have paid off: not only is there less poverty, but the lush green landscape has reappeared.
According to the latest government figures, more than 3 million people have been pulled out of poverty over the past four years in Guangxi's stony desertification area of about two million hectares. So far, about 280,000 hectares of such landscape has been treated, according to Huang Shiyong, vice chairman of the regional government.
With the return of green trees, the monkeys have made a comeback.H A Xinhua investigation team this week found that large numbers of wild monkeys have showed up in multiple localities in Guangxi, including Fengshan, Tian'e, Pingguo and Jinchengjiang. Officials with local forestry bureaus told Xinhua that it is hard to give an official number on the monkeys because the figures keep climbing.
The reemergence of the monkeys may be a sign of a recovering environment, but for many villagers, the primates have become a nuisance.
"As young people have left for better jobs in big cities, most of those left behind in the rural villages are women, children and the elderly," said Huang Rizheng, a forestry official in Guangxi's Tianyang County. "The trouble makers are fearless of these residents and often run straight into the fields and steal corn."
Local villagers have tried, unsuccessfully, to chase them off with gongs, drums and firecrackers.
"The methods are not effective at all and their numbers keep rising," said Pan Xiangzu, a forest ranger in Dongcheng Village. "Four or five years ago, there were only yellow ones, but now white monkeys and grey monkeys have appeared too."
Pan added that he has seen hundreds of monkeys roaming a mountaintop at a time.
Despite all the trouble, local governments and villagers have been tolerant of the animals, with some county governments offering subsidies to villagers for damage to their fields.
"This is a lesson from the past," said Liang Feng, deputy head of Guangxi's Du'an County government. "We not only drove away the monkeys with the rampant logging, but also landed ourselves in a vicious cycle of poverty."
Not only have the monkeys came back, but other animals, such as bamboo rats, pheasants, wild cats and even boars have showed up in big numbers in the mountains, said Lu Junfu, a wildlife protection official in Hechi City.
More wildlife is likely to show up in the region as China steps up poverty relief efforts, considered as a key factor in China building a well-off society.
Officials in Guangxi plan to relocate more than one million poverty-stricken residents to cities, towns and counties in the next five years, which may give more space for the survival of the wild animals such as the monkeys in the mountains. The residents' relocation comes along with job vacancies thanks to the government, which will guarantee villagers' financial security.
"Moving out of the mountains is the only way out of poverty for many villagers," said Chen Jiyong, secretary of the Du'an County Committee of the Communist Party of China. "We will relocate 55,000 people in the coming five years."
Villagers are also eager to leave the life of poverty behind.
"If I stick with growing corn, I can only make 200 yuan (about 30 U.S. dollars) for one mu (667 sq m) of cornfield each month," said Zhou Meiyu, a resident in Shangsan Village. "If I find a job in the big cities, I can make a monthly salary of at least 4,000 yuan."
Zhou said that local villagers will leave the villages sooner or later with the help of the government.
"Maybe the villages will be under the reign of the monkeys in the future," she added.