December 17, 2010
There are many interesting parks to visit in Beijing. Many of them have beautiful trees, birds and some even beautiful temples. I highly suggest walking around Beihai Park and the park at the Temple of Heaven. However, if you are looking for a more off the beaten path park unvisited by most tourists you should check out the Milu Park. The Milu Park is Beijing’s one and only eco-reserve. Much like Ranthambore National Park in India, the land used to be imperial hunting grounds, but was turned into a reserve for the deer in 1985. The deer was actually hunted to extinction in China in the late 19th Century. It is rumored that the last remaining herd of Milu’s were eaten by Western and Japanese troops during the Boxer rebellion in 1900. Right before their extinction a man named Armand David, a missionary Catholic priest as well as a zoologist and botanist, otherwise known as Pere David discovered the deer and publicized them in the west resulting in the transport of a few of the deer for exhibition in Europe and the UK. The deer were bred there and survived for over 80 years. Then in the 80’s they were reintroduced to three reserves in China including the newly created Milu Park on the land where Pere David had originally discovered them. The deer is often referred to as Pere David’s deer after him.
The park is wonderful, but deeply flawed. When exploring it you can tell there were great intentions in the creation of it but really bad follow through. The park was set up in two parts- one open to the public where you can walk and have picnics and there are a ton of playground areas for children and even a hedge maze. There are many environmentally conscious themed playthings like giant cages the children can go inside to feel what it is like to be a caged animal, and interactive displays with information on the environment. Every bench in the park is engraved with a quote about saving the environment. You can see some of my favorite examples below.
Then there is the eco reserve where the Milu are, which is fenced off and can be viewed from a bridge and a few other spots in the public areas. I got to see a bunch of them in those areas, but only from far away.
One had gotten out of the fenced area and was walking around in the open public area. It was amazing to see up close, but immediately dozens of children set upon him. He was clearly weak and disoriented and lay down by a pond. The kids all went up to him to take pictures with him and pet him. I was getting a little upset and tried to find a ranger, but no park officials were anywhere to be found. The kids were shoving chips and candies in his face and pulling on his ears while their parents just stood by snapping pictures. One little boy picked up a giant stick bigger than himself and started poking the Milu and his parents did nothing. The boy tried to go for the eye of the deer and I leaped in front of him and grabbed the stick out of his hand. I yelled at him: “NO! You do not poke wild animals with sticks!!!” He just looked at me like I was nuts. Obviously he and everyone around us spoke no English. I think it’s great that the park officials made the park so kid friendly because it’s really important to get the next generation to care about animals, but without supervision and guidance by the rangers the kids will simply continue the bad habits of their parents and grandparents before them. China is notorious for their mistreatment of animals and driving numerous animals into extinction both within China and other countries. The park seems to represent the change occurring within the country where the new generation cares more about having dogs as pets than eating them or saving the panda’s habitat rather than building new roads. But on closer inspection you can see the attitude of the general public is not dramatically different enough to protect the endangered species.
There’s a really interesting cemetery for extinct species where each animal and the year it went extinct is written on stone slabs resembling fallen dominos. At the end you see a stone human hand showing that it is humans who are knocking over the dominos- we are the cause of extinction. However this beautiful and poignant message seemed lost on the children as they just climbed all over it and took silly pictures of themselves waving and smiling clueless to the gravity of the sculpture they were playing on. I think with a little more involvement by the ecologists who worked so hard to set the park up it could be a wonderful place that really makes a difference in changing the psyche of the Chinese in regards to animals.