Sunday, December 23, 2007

Songbirds fly free as China turns its back on 2,000 years of history

For 2,000 years the song thrush has brought music to the ears of millions of Chinese. Now the ancient tradition of buying, caging and keeping wild song birds looks destined to die out. A new law banning the trade in seven species of wild birds takes effect on January 1. The aim is to try to save China's dwindling numbers of birds. It will also undermine the bustling local markets that are a familiar sight across Chinese cities and towns. The change in rules signals the likely demise of an integral aspect of Chinese life that dates back to the Han dynasty. Anyone who already has a bird will be allowed to keep it. But among the seven birds that will be banned from sale is the huamei — or song thrush — which has long been the species of choice for bird-keeping enthusiasts. Those buying or selling the birds will face a fine of up to ten times the price of the bird. It is the first time that Beijing environment officials have changed the list of protected species since 1989.

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