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



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.

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.”

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.

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