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China is a vast country with a gloriously rich array of plants and animals. Its habitats vary from tropical rainforest, to temperate forest, to upland grassland, to the Gobi desert.
The rapid economic development of China in the past 30 years has wreaked havoc on its environment. Many habitats are fragile and vulnerable to mining, infrastructure, tourism and dam construction. Many species can only be found in China. Species such as the cao vit gibbon and the big tree rhododendron tree are on the edge of extinction.
However, there is a growing wave of environmentalism amongst China’s population. People are becoming more and more engaged with conservation of the country’s wildlife and corporate social responsibility. This is a great sign of hope for the future.
The Fauna & Flora International (FFI) China Programme was initiated in 1999 with a wetland project in Lhasa. It then rapidly expanded to include multi-stakeholder planning projects in Sichuan and Qinghai.
The programme is now also working in Guangxi, Yunnan, Chongqing and Hainan. Activities range from species-focused projects for China’s most endangered primates and tree species, to landscape-level community-based initiatives, to advising on provincial policy and conservation governance.
Building on Global Trees Campaign field projects, FFI/GTC is working with government institutions to design and implement training in threatened plant conservation for nature reserve and forestry office staff and other stakeholders, and to provide assistance with the development of a plant conservation strategy and action plan for some regions.
China is host to approximately 40% of the 245 known species of magnolia, and 31 species have been identified as threatened with extinction in the wild. Since 2006, FFI’s Global Trees Campaign has worked with Kunming Botanic Garden and nature reserves to assess the population and distribution of ten priority species and to formulate conservation plans for selected species. Restoration of one priority Critically Endangered species, Manglietiastrum sinicum, has been undertaken within Wenshan National Nature Reserve in southeast Yunnan, accompanied by capacity building for the nature reserve and local forestry office staff, focusing on patrolling, monitoring, habitat management and awareness-raising.
China is home to over half of all rhododendron species, including the world’s largest, the big tree rhododendron. Fewer than 100 trees of this remarkable species are known in the wild with any certainty, all in Gaoligonshan Nature Reserve in south-west China. From 2010 to now, FFI has worked with local partners through the Global Trees Campaign to improve understanding of the distribution and ecology of this species, how to protect it and how to promote its regeneration.
Yunnan Province has the richest biodiversity and the largest number of gibbon species in China. FFI is helping to coordinate gibbon conservation activities throughout the province, particularly for the western black crested gibbon and eastern hoolock gibbon. We are filling gaps in basic information on this species by collecting data in Ailaoshan National Nature Reserve and Wullangshan National Nature Reserve while working with the government to develop and implement species conservation plans. In addition, FFI is working with the management authorities of Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve to help conserve China’s population of eastern hoolock gibbons.
The Critically Endangered cao vit gibbon (the closest relative of the Hainan gibbon) was believed to survive only in one location in northern Vietnam until, in 2006, three more groups were discovered in adjacent forest in Guangxi Autonomous Province, China. Since then, FFI has been active on both sides of the international border to improve the cao vit gibbon’s chances of survival. In Guangxi we have been raising awareness among local communities and government and supporting the establishment of a provincial level nature reserve, and we have also provided patrol and monitoring staff. In partnership with one of China’s leading gibbon experts we have supported detailed research and observations of this previously little-known species.
The Hainan gibbon is considered the rarest ape in the world, with only two family groups known to survive in the zone core of Bawangling Nature Reserve on Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast. FFI is helping to increase awareness of the importance of this species through various initiatives, including supporting environmental education in schools and is working with nature reserve staff to improve their conservation skills and protect the remaining gibbon habitat on Hainan.
FFI believes that the traditional Tibetan way of life, based around herding livestock on the high altitude grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau, does not have to be lost to protect the region’s environment or to bring the communities out of poverty. We are working with local organisations and other groups to encourage grassland communities to form collaborative management committees, which serve as a forum for discussions on issues such as predation of domestic stock by wildlife.
The European Commission is funding two initiatives which aim to bring biodiversity into the mainstream of economic and social development in the Chongqing Autonomous Municipality and Guangxi Autonomous Province. In Chongqing, FFI has worked with the Environment Protection Bureau to map the key areas of biodiversity importance, write a strategic action plan, establish a preliminary monitoring system and make biodiversity part of the civil servant’s performance appraisal. Meanwhile, in Guangxi, FFI has worked with the Environment Protection Bureau and the Forestry Bureau to produce a consultative strategic action plan for the karst-rich south-west Guangxi. Together with the Chinese Government we have developed a biodiversity monitoring system and have collaboratively surveyed and formalised a new nature reserve to protect the endangered cao vit gibbon and have strengthened protection in another 14 nature reserves.