Across China: Night safaris promise adventure for urban kids
BEIJING, July 30 (Xinhua) -- It was 10 p.m. at Fragrant Hills Park in northwestern Beijing, formerly a hunting ground for emperors, and 20 boys and girls were having a summer adventure.
Teacher Li Weiyang led a group of elementary school students, dressed in yellow shirts and reflective vests, as he walked down a trail. He picked up a small toad from the roadside, held it on his palm and flashed a light on top of the creature. The toad retracted his head and peed on his fingers. The boys immediately gathered around Li and marveled as they observed the toad's reactions.
"That was its stress reaction. But don't try to taste the liquid. Your tongue will suffer for days, and don't ask how I know about this," said Li, 40, team leader of the night safari.
Most of the students touched the skin of the toad, but two jumped back and refrained from the experience. Li returned the toad back to nature after showing it to the kids and their parents who accompanied them.
The program, dubbed as "night safari at Fragrant Hills," is a natural science education program offered by Beijing-based company Nature Culture. It includes camping, science lectures and field trips at night. The firm has organized the program since 2014.
This summer, both private and public institutions have hosted events to engage children in popular science. During this year's summer vacation, the Museum of Chinese Gardens and Landscape Architecture, Beijing Botanical Garden, the Temple of Heaven Park and Beijing Zoo also organized similar programs.
According to Zhu Jun, who is in charge of the Fragrant Hills (Xiangshan) project, the night safari is open to children between 6 to 12 years old, and nearly 400 families join each year.
"Nature science education is important for kids. With more kids raised in cities, their parents want them to spend time in nature, so this kind of program is very popular," Zhu said.
"It's one thing to learn about nature in a museum and quite another to actually experience it," said Yang Tao, a father who came with his nine-year-old son.
Li Weiyang, who is a part-time science writer, acts as a guide and team leader. The company also hires wildlife researchers to serve as guides.
Li grew up in Beijing. "When I was a boy, I usually came to Fragrant Hills with my friends to look for frogs, hedgehogs and other animals. My passion for natural science grew from here. I hope these children can feel the same," he said.
Fragrant Hills Park is about 20 kilometers from downtown Beijing. Its rich biodiversity makes it an ideal location for urban children to be close to nature, said Li.
The most commonly-discovered animals in the area include spiders, shrimp, hedgehogs, snakes and glowworms, but some species can be hard to track.
The climax of the night trip came after the appearance of fireflies by the lake. The students held their breath, shut down flashlights and watched these insects in the treetops.
"They are so tiny and like fairies dancing in the sky," said Chen Wenning, a 10-year-old girl.
"That is not a common scene for a city child," her mother Sui Wei added.
The two-hour journey ended before midnight, but the students stayed up late to talk about their adventures.
Ten-year-old Yang Yi is already planning his next trip to Fragrant Hills. "I love this journey because I saw so many animals which I only saw on TV before, like bats, millipedes and cicadas. Tonight is so cool," he said.