TAIYUAN, March 25 (Xinhua) -- Apart from treating patients at work, Yang Xiaodong, a 51-year-old doctor from Heshun County, northern China's Shanxi Province, also saves wildlife in his spare time.
Heshun County, located deep in the Taihang Mountains with a forest coverage rate of nearly 30 percent, is home to a large number of wild animals including north China leopards, roe deer, wild boars and red foxes. Yang, vice president of the Heshun People's Hospital, has guarded them for 21 years since he founded a wildlife protection NGO in 1999.
Last spring, the staff with the county forestry bureau sent him a Eurasian eagle owl that hit a high-voltage line, with one eye already blind and another badly hurt.
Having no such treatment experience, Yang sought advice from some experts and invited his colleagues in the ophthalmology department to help treat the bird.
"We were worried that the operation might fail. But if we didn't try, the eagle owl would have no chance at all," he said.
After half an hour of careful operation, Yang and his colleagues saved the eagle owl's eye. In the following two months, he gave the bird eye drops and anti-inflammatories every day, and released it into the wild after it regained its ability to hunt.
So far, Yang has treated 300 to 400 injured wild animals. Among them, one third were cured and returned to nature, while one third were sent to zoos due to their disability.
Supported by the local government, he set up the county's ecological protection association in 2018 to promote the cause of wildlife protection.
Once, the doctor found someone posted two roe deer cubs' pictures on his social media, so he called the forest police immediately. They searched several villages to catch the poachers and sent the cubs to the animal protection base of the association.
However, as the cubs did not drink powdered milk, Yang had to overnight buy a diary goat from out of the county to feed them. After five months, when they were weaned and could eat grass, the volunteers at the animal protection base released them into the wild.
"People shouldn't keep wild animals as pets. They belong to nature," Yang said.
Under his influence, more than 100 volunteers including his family have now joined the ecological protection association and become guardians of wildlife in the mountains.
"Though it's hard work, it's all worth it as long as we can speak and do something for the animals," he said.
Meanwhile, with poaching methods more and more sophisticated, they are increasingly aware of the urgency of wildlife conservation. Over the past two years, Yang and the volunteers have spent their spare time patrolling around the mountains and hanging over 100 anti-poaching posters in rural areas.
"As the number of our volunteers increases, we can have a greater deterrent effect on poachers," said Liu Zhibo, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Their efforts draw public attention to the wildlife protection career.
In 2015, the Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance, a Beijing-based NGO, worked with Yang's team to launch an ecological protection fund, compensating locals for their 50 to 60 cattle eaten by north China leopards every year to ease conflicts between humans and animals.
The association also cooperated with the local public security bureau to set up more than 70 warning signs in the sites where wild animals are abundant and launched an online project with Alipay Ant Forest, a public welfare platform of Alibaba, to explore new modes of preserving wildlife in the local areas.
"Our infrared cameras often captured images of a family of wild animals looking for food. They were so sweet," said Liu Zhibo, adding that he usually persuaded people not to poach and eat wild animals by showing the videos to them.
After the sudden attack of the novel coronavirus, China has stepped up efforts in cracking down on illegal activities related to wildlife as researchers believe the virus highly likely came from wild animals. Liu thought this would make his words more persuasive when educating people on not eating bushmeat.
Moreover, to Yang's joy, China's top legislature had adopted a decision on thoroughly banning the illegal trading of wildlife and eliminating the consumption of wild animals.
"I believe wildlife conservation in China will take a big step forward," he said.