Yu Jiahua and his patrol team travel up the Jiudingshan mountain on a foggy day. Photo: CFP
At the top of the mountain, one of the team members stops to catch his breath. His hair is full of frost because of the cold air. Photo: CFP
At Yu's house, there's a pile of skulls belonging to dead wild animals the team has found over the years. Photo: CFP
A team member gets dressed in a tent. Photo: CFP
The team sits around a campfire and eats dinner. Photo: CFP
Yu feeds some yaks on the top of the mountain. Photo: CFP
Yu Jiahua remembers his brush with death like it happened yesterday. In August, 2004 he was told some hunters were poaching on Jiudingshan, a mountain located in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
He and four others trekked 15 kilometers in the dead of night and finally met the hunters. They had already killed gorals, badgers and a pheasant. Yu asked them if they knew that their prey were protected by law, when one of the hunters picked up a shotgun and aimed it at Yu's head.
In a heated fist fight, Yu and his companions bested the hunters, confiscated the shotguns and turned the poachers in at the local forestry police station.
Yu, a member of the Qiang ethnic minority, used to be a hunter as well.
The area he lives in is nicknamed "the panda
corridor," because that part of Sichuan is known for its wild pandas and diverse wildlife.
In the 1980s, almost all households in the area had illegal guns and hunters would each set more than 3,000 traps in the mountains.
Hunters that couldn't find enough animals would set fire to drive the animals out of the forest so they could shoot them. Sometimes animals couldn't escape and simply burned to death.
Yu was horrified by this practice, and distraught at the depopulation among the local wildlife caused by hunting. He and his brother then decided to devote themselves to environmental protection.
In 2004, Yu established a wildlife protection association. His son and some of his neighbors also joined. They go on volunteer patrols funded by NGOs and companies and try to reason with any hunters they see. But the funds don't always cover all the costs.
Over the years, Yu has spent a fortune on the patrols. But he is glad to see there is less and less poaching. The team members only found 12 traps and no hunters in a recent week-long patrol.
In one of his patrols last year, Yu even found fresh panda excrement on the west side of Jiudingshan.
"We've never had any pandas active in this area on record," he said. "It must be because the environment is getting better." Newspaper headline: Forest guardian