The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has mobilized an army of chickens and other birds as an effective and environmentally friendly way of combating swarms of locusts along the China-Kyrgyzstan border.
Some 2,200 chickens will be used to battle the invasive species for the first time in Wushi county, Aksu.
This year, about 3,867 hectares of grasslands in Wushi have been overrun by locusts, with the pests ravaging pastures, gorging on grassroots and forcing dozens of herding families to evacuate to more sustainable areas.
The phenomenon caused direct economic losses of over 1 million yuan (9,000) last year, according to the regional pest control authority.
Xinjiang usually sprays insecticides to halt the spread of the locusts, which is effective in killing the insects, but has also harmed the natural environment and wiped out beneficial species, said Yang Zhong, deputy director of a field station with the Wushi Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau.
This year, hungry fowls will be given free of charge to 363 villagers in Wushi, with 1,004 chickens so far distributed to 170 villagers.
Authorities will also guide herdsmen on how to raise poultry, as well as on ways to use the birds to protect the environment while raising local incomes, the bureau said.
"Chickens are excellent natural predators of locusts. One chicken can catch over 600 locusts a day and can cover half a hectare of grassland," Yang said. "There has been a decline in the locust population in several counties where the measure has been adopted."
The number of locusts per hectare has dropped 75 percent in areas where the chickens have been foraging. About 100 of the birds won the battle last year over an area of 534 hectares in Wushi where locusts had been rampant, Yang added.
Wushi villager Harmat Mamat was given 10 chickens last year. He said it is an environmentally friendly way of tackling the locust problem - and also means more eggs to eat.
"These chickens crave locusts, which not only saves on feeding costs, but also improves the sustainability of the pasture. The chickens also provide eggs for the family and can raise our income when we've enough to sell," he said.
The chicken army is not alone in the fight, though. Its fine-feathered friends - ducks and other birds - have also been deployed by the regional government to keep the locust numbers down.