China to build first panda national park, help enhance residents’ livelihood in adjacent areas

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/20 18:43:40

Mountain residents will be relocated to make room for giant pandas

Southwest China's Sichuan Province launches cooperation program to build a giant panda national park to better protect pandas.

The program includes financial assistance, charity, disaster relief, community education, tourism development and ecological construction, and also aims to help poverty-stuck residents living in the area.

Experts disagree over to what extent the national park should develop tourism to boost economy.

A panda looks into the distance at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Photo: Li Hao/GT

China is enhancing the charm of pandas on its poverty alleviation mission by building a national park for giant pandas in Southwest and Northwest areas where many local residents have lower living standards.

Southwest China's Sichuan Province recently launched a cooperation program to build the Giant Panda National Park and signed papers with 19 county-level governments and areas in Sichuan, Northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (CRBGPB), according to the Forestry Department of Sichuan Province.

The move for setting up the giant panda national park spanning three provinces aims to help the endangered animals migrate around and strengthen their gene pool, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Meanwhile, as most of the areas included in the park in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi are mountainous and where residents live a poor life, the giant panda national park will also serve as an opportunity for local governments' poverty reduction work.

The park, which was first approved in 2016, will cover 27,134 square kilometers, three times the area of Yellowstone National Park in the US.

The program, which includes financial assistance, charity foundation, disaster relief, community education, tourism development and ecological construction, will focus on building and protecting China's first giant panda park and help poverty-stuck residents living in the area.

The Sichuan branch of Bank of China plans to offer a loan of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) to help poor people living in areas included in the planned national park. The fund, to be used in a variety of poverty alleviation projects, will be offered between 2018 and 2023.

Qumu Shiha, head of a working group for building the national park, was cited by a release from the Forestry Department of Sichuan Province as saying that it is a big step to promote the building of the national park for accomplishing the poverty alleviation job in areas included in the park.

"It is also a practical move to implement targeted poverty reduction… to meet with the requirement of building a moderately well-off society in an all-round way," he said.

Qumu also said that "inking papers of the program would help mobilize the effort of the whole society into the protection of giant pandas, promote the harmony between nature and human being, explore the new model to combine environmental protection, financing, poverty reduction and charity career together. [These efforts] would help to build the giant panda national park a model for ecological development and social development globally."


Panda protection

Pandas are not only loved by Chinese, they have a lot of fans overseas. According to a survey on China's overseas influence, pandas have topped the list. As the environment for pandas grows increasingly complicated, China has always paid attention to the protection work of pandas, including launching projects on protecting their habitats.

Giant pandas are now scattered in six mountainous areas and are divided into 33 isolated groups in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Their living habitats are disturbed by large-scale human activities including mining, hydro-power, tourism and infrastructure construction, Fan Zhiyong, senior director from Science, Policy and Innovation Center of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told the Global Times.

Fan said that the isolated groups would affect genetic diversity and that habitat fragmentation - the separation of wildlife population by physical barriers - is increasingly noticeable with many individual pandas facing higher risks to their survival.

An anonymous source from China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda told the Global Times that the number of wild pandas in China is 1,864, and the number for captive breeding is 520. "Most of the wild pandas are living in remote mountainous areas 2,000 meters above the sea level," she said.

According to a report, formally known as the Fourth National Giant Panda Survey, conducted by the Chinese government, the geographic range of pandas throughout China also has increased. The total area inhabited by wild giant pandas in China now equals 2,577,000 hectares, an expansion of 11.8 percent since 2003, according to a release from the website of WWF.

The number of wild giant pandas representing a 16.8 percent rise compared to the last panda survey in 2003. Although the survey recorded an increase in population and habitat area, wild giant pandas still face severe challenges. According to the survey, 33.2 percent of the population live outside of protected nature reserves.

Meanwhile, bamboo, which the pandas live on, could be affected by climate change, deforestation and natural disasters, including flood and debris flow, which will challenge the pandas' living condition, as reported.

"We cannot lose one panda, never should we lose one inch of the pandas' habitats," Fan said.

Launching a giant panda national park would help build corridors among different habitats and promote gene exchange among different groups, Fan said, adding that the national park would also help decrease fragmentation and integrate administrations on panda protection in different areas.

The three provinces involved have conducted cooperation in many fields, including defining the range of the national park, checking the situation of living residents and natural resources in the area and discussing the plan, according to China Reform Daily report.

The program also involves collaborations between CRBGPB, the Forestry Department of Sichuan Province and the Sichuan Branch of Red Cross Society of China. CRBGPB has already set an area to display special products which will be offered in the national park after it is open to the public.

A boy plays in a street in Baoxing county, Sichuan Province, where the first panda was discovered. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Poverty alleviation

Aside from protecting the beloved animals, the panda national park could also help promote poverty reduction in the areas. The pilot plan of building the park said that, considering people who live near panda habitats have a poor life and rely heavily on local resources, "their livelihood should be properly dealt with."

"We used to build natural reserves to protect nature without considering too much of local residents' opinions or their interests," Gu Xiaodong, deputy director of the department on protection of wild animals in Sichuan Forestry Department, was cited by China Reform Daily as saying.

Gu said that a giant panda national park should not only protect pandas and other precious species, but also help pay attention to the development of local residents. The key for building the national park is to deal with relations between humans and nature.

The building of the national park also involves the management of mines, the livelihood of more than 200,000 residents, and assets worth more than 30 billion yuan in the three provinces, which needs more specific management mechanism, Hou Rong, deputy to the 13th National People's Congress, said at a meeting about Sichuan Province during this year's two sessions in Beijing.

"The mountainous areas in Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan included in the national park are identified as one of the 14 areas of extreme poverty by the central government. And the poverty reduction in the areas would be more difficult," Du Xiaoshan, a researcher at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

According to the pilot plan, the national park would be divided into different functional areas and adopted different protection measures. For example, people who live in core protection areas or areas which need ecological remediation would be moved out and relocated to another place. These residents would receive more compensation and they would be the first group to be offered jobs in ecological maintenance.

"A special fund for building the national park and poverty alleviation funds could help relocate these residents from inhospitable places, but the key to totally lift them from poverty is to find them a way to earn their living," noted He Xuefeng, director of China Rural Governance Research Center, Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Du said that "developing a panda-related industry or tourism would benefit these relocated residents as well as protecting the ecological environment."

However, Fan also warned that to what extent the national park should develop tourism remains to be carefully studied.

"Developing tourism is never the primary way to lift poverty; it should only be a subsidiary method. Tourism in the panda national park should be reasonable and not sacrifice long-term environmental benefits for short-term interests," Fan said.

Du said that combining pandas and related resources with poverty alleviation work would be efficient and could be learned from by other places. "But not all places have unique tourism resources like pandas. And each poverty-stricken area should consider their own situation when considering turning to developing tourism to help reduce poverty," Du said.

Newspaper headline: Panda poverty alleviation

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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