By Patty L. Adversario
Jui-Lin Chang, president of Taiwan’s largest bird society, shares how the group engages the public in conserving the environment through bird fairs.
Taiwan’s oldest bird group, the Wild Bird Society of Taipei (WBST) has hosted waterfowl festivals –
local and international – since 1988.
Through the years, it has gained a wealth of experience and knowledge that groups like the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) can learn from and emulate.
WBCP sat down with Jui-Lin Chang, WBST president at the Guandu Nature Park to find out what has enabled the group to hold and sustain well-attended annual events like the Taipei International Birdwatching Fair. This year’s 21st fair was held Oct 19-20 at Guandu Nature Park and the WBCP was one of the participants.
Speaking through a translator, Chang names three core elements. First, he says, “you need to have a heart and passion to do this because it is not easy to organize a big event and bring together different groups.
“Not many people are also familiar with the topic,” he adds. This year’s theme “Along with the Birds” aims to find out what human society can do to create a stable and sustainable environment for the birds.
The annual international bird fair has come a long way since 1981. Back then, it was called the Guandu Waterbird Festival – a local affair held every spring and autumn to welcome and celebrate the migration season.
In 1999, this event was elevated to the “Guandu International Birdwatching Fair”, which attracted more people to the Guandu Nature Park.
In 2001, WBST took over organizing the annual event renaming it the Taipei International Birdwatching Fair. Coincidentally, the Taipei City government appointed the WBST to manage the Guandu Nature Park, Taiwan’s first nature park.
WBST’s appointment duly acknowledged its role in initiating the construction of the nature park. Guandu Nature Park was created in 1999 to protect the water birds, relates Chang.
Before the cleanup, the area was full of garbage, endangering the wintering grounds of the Eurasian Green Teal, which used to number more than 10,000. But their numbers were fast declining.
To protect the water birds, WBST urged the government to protect the wetland area by buying the private land. In 1994, the WBST initiated a movement to collect 10,000 signatures to protect Guandu.
In 1996, the government approved a special budget of NT$15 billion to buy 55 hectares of private land to build Taiwan’s first nature park.
This year, the park celebrates its 20th year anniversary with several milestones. According to its website, the Guandu Nature Park is the first wetland education center in Taiwan to be certified as an environmental education field by the United Nations Wetland Secretariat.
For the first time this year, Taiwan hosted the Wetland Link International Asia Conference. It was held at Guandu and hosted by the Taipei City government.
Through the park, WBST wants to bring Guandu to the world stage, a release from the WBST website declares. The Guandu Nature Park, which attracts 210,000 tourists, is the most important ecological environment investment project in Taipei. More than 1,000 species of animals have been recorded in the wetland park dedicated to education and conservation. Of that, nearly 300 bird species have been recorded in Guando Nature Park. Each year, more than 15,000 migratory birds visit the park.
As the park’s administrator, the WBST hopes to strengthen its knowledge through the international exchange of information and experience in wetland conservation, wetland environmental education, and management of wetland centers.
“The second key requirement is we work with the government and private companies to find resources and push our vision and goals,” says Chang.
He relates: “Getting the approval of the Guandu Nature Park took a lot of lobbying effort with the government. We told them the birds are decreasing in numbers today. Tomorrow, it will be people. When we needed the Taipei City Council to agree to buy the private land, we made personal visits to Council members, dividing the work among ourselves on who would convince who.”
“Government support is crucial,” he stresses. He said Guandu Nature Park is the first protected area which was entrusted by the government to a non-profit organization.
Furthermore, “we need government support to make the park bigger. We want to double the size of the park. But the plan is expensive. The government is planning a sports park. Instead of using the land only for a sports park, we aim to convince government to use half of the land for a sports park and half for a nature park.”
Apart from working with the government, WBST also collaborates with private companies. “We get companies to sponsor our guided bird walks. “
One of WBST’s strengths is it has an established reputation, says Judy Ou, member of the WBST’s board of supervisors. “It is the biggest and oldest wild bird society in Taiwan. It has a branded name built upon its 46 years of existence. And it has achieved good reputation in wetland management and conservation.”
“The third key element which is very important are the volunteers,” says Chang.
He says the WBST has 10,000 non-core members and of that, 1,000 are core members. Ninety per cent of their volunteers are members while only 10% are not members.
“Without volunteers this event would not happen. For a big event like this, the WBST would need at least 700 volunteers. Of that, we’d need at least 500 core volunteers to make things run smoothly,” says Chang.
He relates that it has been harder to get volunteers compared to 20 years ago.
“People did not have many options then. We need people who agree with the WBST vision of society and its mission.”
Still, to its credit, the WBST has been able to recruit volunteers and sustain public interest in nature activities through its regular bird watching activities.
“Every weekend, we offer at least two free bird tours with our 30 volunteers as guides. Since 1989, we have been hosting annual summer and winter camps for children and teenagers and they have been very popular,” says Chang.
In addition, WBST also offers lectures and field trips for local schools in Guandu and other areas in the Taipei suburbs.
Says Ou: “WBST’s numerous activities are supported not only by its vision but by a wide network of dedicated volunteers, a reputable training and education program backed by sustainable financing.”
The society’s volunteer guides go through a six-month training course to hone their skills in bird identification and spirit of service.
Over the years, WBST has sustained itself through its operations. It already employs more than 60 full-time employees, adds Ou.
This makes WBST’s more than 600 active volunteers like Ou very proud.
“I’ve been with WBST since 1997. I continue to volunteer because I was touched and influenced by others in WBST. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated what it does for the environment. I have gained friends, experiences, knowledge, and happiness in WBST.”