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Monk breeds peafowl at ancient pagoda

Update: September, 07/2014 - 20:18
Safe haven: Caged under the shade of an ancient Bodhi tree, the peafowls now live together with other birds, safe from the threat of being stolen, shot or poisoned. — VNS Photos Phu Yen

The rare bird has re-emerged in Phu Yen Province thanks to the efforts of monk Thich Nguyen Duc. Phan Phu Yen reports.

Strange and interesting stories about the peafowl – a valuable, rare and endangered bird species – have been circulating in Tuy Hoa City, Phu Yen Province.

It was reported that a monk has been taking care of peafowls in the garden of the Ho Son Pagoda. This has compelled me to go on a trip to the pagoda to see for myself whether the stories are true.

The peafowl is included the Red Book of Viet Nam, a list of rare and endangered species of fauna and flora that are native to the country.

Research shows that the bird can be found in the Yunnan region of southern China, Myanmar, Thailand and Indochina. In Viet Nam, the noble bird can be seen in the Central Highlands, the South Central region, and in the Nam Cat Tien National Park in the southern province of Dong Nai. The State has prohibited the capture and killing of peafowl for quite some time.

The bird can also be seen in zoos in various cities of the country. But elsewhere, it seems to have disappeared. So a number of people were surprised to see a flock of peafowls and other rare birds in the Ho Son Pagoda, in the heart of Tuy Hoa City.

In a history spanning more than 300 years, Ho Son has been supervised by 17 abbots. It now serves as headquarters of the provincial Buddhist Sangha. Its location and beautiful scenery have also made it a favourite destination of Buddhist monks, intellectuals, writers and artists, who enjoy having heart-to-heart talks with monks about poetry, bonsai and birds.

The pagoda's current abbot is Thich Nguyen Duc. He is also an executive council member of the Buddhist Sangha of Viet Nam, as well as deputy chairman and secretary general of the Executive Board of the Phu Yen Buddhist Sangha.

The venerable monk was also once a biology teacher. He remains a lover of nature and literature and had composed poems on meditation. His interest in nature has led him to study rare birds at risk of extinction.

On my tour of the pagoda and bird garden, the monk revealed how he ended up taking care of peafowl. In 1975, he was presented a peahen, which he allowed to wander in the garden. As it grew, the bird became more beautiful. To the monk and his disciples, the bird had become a pet. In the daytime, the peahen would search for food in the paddy fields and then wander around the garden. At night, it would sleep atop a coconut tree.

Three years later, the peahen began laying and incubating eggs, but these could not be made to hatch without a peacock. Duc searched for a peacock in the hope of raising more birds but was unable to do so. Meantime, the peahen ate some vegetables contaminated with pesticide and died.

The peahen's death saddened the monk. On a number of nights he would dream of the bird in his sleep and see it flying back to the garden with an entire flock of peafowl. His dream partly came true when, on a beautiful day, a Buddhist presented him with a pair of year-old peafowls. One was a peacock and the other, a peahen.

Rare bird: Monk Thich Nguyen Duc holds one of the peafowls.

Monk Thich Nguyen Duc took care of the birds, which managed to get along with other bird species in the garden such as chickens, geese, pheasants and guinea-fowls.

Sometime later, the peahen laid eggs, but these did not hatch in spite of the presence of a peacock. The monk did some research and found out the proper way of incubating eggs. His efforts paid off when two eggs were successfully hatched in 1993.

The monk recalled that at the time, the temple was busy, and he had never seen small peafowls before. So at first he thought the peafowls were chickens because chickens and peafowls lived and laid eggs together. Three weeks after hatching, some feathers grew on the small peafowls' heads, confirming that they were not chickens.

"I was overjoyed, so I called all of my disciples to the pagoda to celebrate," the monk said

But the celebration was short-lived as the peafowls were stolen. The peacock was also shot while searching for food and its wing was broken.

"I was heartbroken. The safety of the birds occupied my mind for a long time," the monk said.

Unwilling to allow the precious birds, especially the peafowls, to fly everywhere as before without protection, he decided to build a 100-square metre steel cage in the garden.

Caged under the shade of an ancient Bodhi tree, the peafowls now live together with other birds, safe from the threat of being stolen or shot. The monk also takes more precautions in taking care of the birds. He prepares their food himself and feeds them frequently. From the two peafowl, a flock was successfully born and bred in the pagoda.

After nearly 40 years of breeding peafowls, the monk has accumulated much experience. Once a month, he let his disciples clear up the cage to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Food for the birds includes cereals and vegetables with micro-nutrients. Green vegetables are washed thoroughly to avoid threadworms.

Peafowls are good at catching lice but cannot catch all. Whenever he detects lice on his peafowls, Duc sprays anti-mosquito insecticide on their feathers at bedtime.

Monk Duc revealed that the peahen would lay an average of four to six eggs once a year, at the end of the first lunar month, and would incubate them for nearly a month.

Because the peahens are often clumsy, they end up breaking their eggs or stepping on small peafowls. So he lets chickens incubate peahens' eggs.

"It's interesting. When the eggs hatch, the hen leads the small peafowls to feed and protects them. The peacock and peahen then go around dancing, and this makes all of them look very happy," said the monk.

I witnessed the monk feeding the birds and felt happy amid the quiet of the temple. The peacocks have green feathers and a long tail, at the end of which are points with blue-green stars and red and golden brown colours.

Venerable monk Thich Nguyen Duc has brought numerous peafowls to the mountain forests of Phu Yen Province to set them free. He has also gifted a number of pagodas across the country with peafowls and information on how to take care of the birds.

Before we parted, the monk told me that he and his disciples at the pagoda would continue breeding the birds to help protect them, and expressed hopes that the pagoda would become a place for the conservation of birds and trees. — VNS

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