Generation Z forest keeper: to protect nature is to ensure the survival of mankind

Yuan Meng, Xue Yanyan, Liu Ning

Chen Yuanyu, born in 1995, left her hometown of Xi’an city, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi province, for a rural county situated among the sloping folds of the middle ranges of the Qinling Mountains.

After giving up a job offer to become a programmer upon graduating from university, the young woman decided she would rather become a forest keeper in the Foping Nature Reserve. Confident in her decision, Chen was quick to affirm that she was now “proud to be a mountain guardian.”

As a member of the Generation Z and the only female on her team, the brave woman has contributed her efforts to the protection of the ecosystem of China’s northernmost habitat for the giant panda after persuading her family living comfortably in the city to support her work in the rugged and remote mountainside.

Chen has put her power and strength on full display, carrying out daily patrols and going all out to do her part to preserve the mountains and rivers that the giant pandas in the area call home.

Girl power: softness is not a weakness but instead a strength
When Chen first joined the team of forest ranger s, she initially believed that all her efforts would be exerted in catching up with her male counterparts during their work inside the forests, requiring her to redouble her efforts to produce the same solid results needed to succeed. However, her thoughts have since undergone something of a transformation.

As the only woman on the team, Chen encountered some difficulties that she had to overcome, including when having to cross mighty rivers during her team’s daily trek. Once she attempted to have a try in view of other’s success; but afterwards, a local suggested her to avoid taking such chances.

Under such circumstances, one possible risk could be that an accident takes place, which would mean that other team member might have to come to the rescue, potentially putting themselves in danger.

Obtaining lessons from reality, Chen said “as the only girl on the team, I am not afraid of my incapability and not engaging in something beyond my abilities is neither timid, nor a weakness, as I contribute my share by making up for this in other aspects.”

Chen Yuanyu poses for a photo among Magnolia trees while on patrol in the Qinling Mountains on August 9, 2022.

The Magnolia, called Houpu in Chinese, is used as a supplement in traditional Chinese medicine . (People’s Daily Online/Yuan Meng)
This approach echoes a concept found in the ancient Chinese philosophical tradition of Taoism: “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding.

But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong. ” Softness can therefore be another form of strength.

Chen Yuanyu changes the memory catridge for an infrared camera in the Qinling Mountains, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, on August 11, 2022. (People’s Daily Online/Yuan Meng)

Chen’s job involves daily patrols of the forest at least once every two days, which also involves searching for and recording any wildlife tracks, in addition to accessing, cleaning and maintaining infrared cameras set up along their route, while capturing photos and conducting natural resource surveys.

The information about the date, weather, and number of animals, species, and potential pests, as well as on different geographic features and locations, also need to be collected.

Father’s tears vs. Chen’s personal passions
“My father is actually a city person, and he has hardly borne any hardships in his lifetime. So he doesn’t understand why his daughter would choose to stay on a remote mountainside. And nor does my grandpa,” Chen recalled, referring to the first impression that her family had regarding her choice of occupations as a forest keeper.

Among the four protection stations, Chen chose the most secluded one for the sake of its surrounding environment, which also requires an 8-kilometer hike in order to access in comparison to those sites able to be reached by vehicles.

Seeking to gain the encouragement and support of her next of kin, Chen invited her father several times to come have a first-hand look at her daily life on a weekend excursion.

In the end, the head of the household finally came down from his high horse and took a stroll with his daughter in the forested mountains of Shaanxi, having at last relented in his doubts upon experiencing the trek for himself.

The golden snub-nosed monkey, a national first-class protected species, is spotted climbing a tree in the forested canopy of the Qinling Mountains, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province on August 10, 2022. (People’s Daily Online/Yuan Meng)

Fresh air, clear waters, lush mountains, overflowing herbs, amazing wildlife, and even traces of giant pandas roaming off in the near distance, revealed the profound magnetism of the Qinling Mountains to Chen’s father during their long walk together on the mountainside.

The man also slept more soundly than ever before in his first nighttime slumber amidst mother nature. On their second day, she accompanied her father on the 8-kilometrer march on foot to see him off before his return to Xi’an, before making the same 8-kilometer trip back to her remote post in the forest.

Her father burst into tears at the end, having completed the long journey alongside his daughter. “Dad, you’ve walked together with me, and you like it here, right? I don’t feel tired, because I like here,” Chen remarked.

Chen Yuanyu conducts a daily patrols underneath the bright sun in the Qinling Mountains, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, on August 11, 2022. (People’s Daily Online/ Yuan Meng)

In fact, the tears proved to be the most apt expression of a father being overwhelmed by his daughter’s passion and zest for life.

A youthful woman in her twenties feels inclined to leave the big city, leaving her family and friends behind, all in order to head towards the remote mountainside to play a small part in the conservation and protection of nature, while safeguarding the giant panda’s habitat, this is surely a remarkable story for anyone to behold.

Encounters with the giant panda: love at first sight
“The most captivating part about my job is when coming across giant pandas, golden snub-nosed monkeys, and various plants and herbs,” Chen said.

The forest keeper felt as if she had developed a deep connection with the giant pandas living in the area and had a special place for Qinling Mountains in her heart.

One day, she was all alone on a familiar path that was only about a meter wide, passing through a bamboo forest.

She recalled a sudden remarkable encounter unlike any other she previously had while trekking through the forest canopy: “When I turned my head to look back, I saw a panda lying there.

At that moment, I was just totally stunned.” They were so close to each other, so close that Chen even forgot to raise her camera to capture a photo as a memento.

During that very first encounter, she had no idea whether to move or stay still because she was just too nervous and lacked any such previous experience.

The funny thing is that the panda bear, named Yimao, didn’t even noticed Chen in the first place. Instead, the giant panda was playing with its lunch in its paws. Then, at one moment, it suddenly raised its head and caught a glimpse of her.

The shock of being in that moment made Chen feel a bit stressed, who wondered how she might react if Yimao had made a move for her, and with no one accompanying her on that day.

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