Non-commercial conservation

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-20 21:45:05


A volunteer carries a stork for treatment at Beidagang reservoir in Tianjin on November 11. Photo: Courtesy of Liu Lianjun
A volunteer carries a stork for treatment at Beidagang reservoir in Tianjin on November 11. Photo: Courtesy of Liu Lianjun

As part of her mission to protect flora and fauna at the Jiuliliang Hills in northwest Beijing's Yanqing county, Zhang Jiao has lived a life of seclusion for 17 years that saw her spiral from being a millionaire to the brink of bankruptcy.

Metro Beijing reported earlier this month she was rescued and treated for exposure after being stranded for two days following sudden snowfall on November 3. But as soon as her health recovered, Zhang said she wanted to return to her conservation work.

Her project to spearhead forestation earnestly began in 1995, gradually growing in scope to entail recovery of the scenic area's ecosystem. As trees grew, animals including wild boars, foxes, rabbits and birds reappeared on the once barren hills.

Zhang said her conservation model initially worked at Jiuliliang, however what started as a modest project now requires substantial funding and other resources to continue flourishing.

In China, some philanthropists invest privately to protect wildlife parks' animals, trees or entire ecosystems. Such parks are separate from State-protected ones. However, a new model being discussed could pave the way for greater cooperation between philanthropists and the government to ensure the survival of parks currently unprotected by the State.

Unprofitable investment

Zhang claims she's the only philanthropist investing in the recovery of both plants and animals at a single area in the country.

"The way it works is I plant the trees and then herbivores are introduced. Later, so are carnivores, which are attracted to eat the herbivores. It builds a whole ecosystem," she said.

Once a successful businesswoman who amassed a 10-million-yuan ($1.6 million) fortune through her wholesale fruit empire, Zhang poured her riches into protecting the environment and wildlife of Jiuliliang.

"I was naïve. I thought if I took one-third of my wealth, I could sign a long-term contract for the hills that would protect them and allow them to recover, eventually forming a small protected park," she said.

But she was wrong. Because such protected areas aren't open to tourists and receive no donations from the public, Zhang's money poured into the 3,000-hectare park has slowly dwindled over 17 years.

"I haven't profited because I have not run my conservation model as a business," she said.

Zhang dug deep into her own pockets to buy tree saplings and planted corn, vegetables and fruits to feed birds, wild boars and badgers. She even raised sheep and chickens to serve as food for carnivorous animals in the area, such as foxes.

Hurdles to protection

Even though Zhang claims the recovery of Jiuliliang has been successful, there are many problems with her model of private investment.

She has faced defiant locals in Liubinbao village, who have thwarted her conservation efforts by setting up traps to catch animals. Many villagers who previously depended on logging to earn a living blame Zhang for robbing them of their livelihood.

"All they care about is money," she said of the villagers.

Snowfall at the beginning of this month drove Zhang down the mountain to seek help. She lost most of her crop, chickens and sheep, she said, and desperately needed to buy food to feed the wild animals.

On the other hand, conservation is lax at some State-protected parks. China Comment, a bi-weekly news magazine, was quoted in 2009 that in the 50 years following the established protection in 1958 of Mount Changbai, a dormant volcano on the border of Northeast China's Jilin Province and North Korea, Manchurian tigers and spotted deer have disappeared. Likewise, the number of red deer has decreased from more than 5,000 to 50, and the area's rivers have been over-fished.

On November 12, volunteers rushed to Beidagang Reservoir in Tianjin to rescue several oriental white storks, listed as first-class national protected animals in China.

"The storks had been poisoned at a city-level protection area," Liu Huimin, the organizer of the volunteers, told Metro Beijing.

Chaotic management

Liu said the government must step up measures if it wants future generations to enjoy the country's scenic parks. Nature University, an environmental NGO, issued a statement on its website after the stork poisoning incident echoing Liu's call.

"In such ecologically important areas, management must tackle many issues, such as human resources and lack of funding. These wetlands have been under chaotic management that has allowed illegal fishing, poisoning and poaching of wild animals despite prohibition," the statement read.

"The protected park model we hope to establish isn't a traditional one," Liu said. "We hope to have one where volunteers can patrol to help protect the area."

Nature University also unveiled a 10-point proposal in addition to its statement, which includes marking boundaries at wetlands and punishing poachers more severely. The NGO is also pushing for volunteers to be able to help the government patrol and protect wildlife.

Feng Yongfeng, director of Nature University, said the best way to protect areas is to establish joint task forces between the government and private sector. This would help correct the misconception that environmental protection is solely a government responsibility, he noted.

"When it comes to the public participating in environmental protection, there is nothing that can't be done," he said.

In fact, there is a wave of people already spearheading small-scale activities to protect the environment, such as purchasing or renting barren hills to allow them to recover, and then encouraging the public to adopt trees in the valleys.

Nevertheless, Feng reiterated that the government should lead the conservation fight.

"When people witness poaching or hunting of animals, they should report it soon enough for the government to act," he said. "Also, it's important for people overseeing privately protected parks to not only to patrol, but also conduct research. The government should support these areas and not only State-funded ones."

Aside from the fact it could be a long time before such a model is set up, Zhang has more immediate worries. Despite financial help from friends, she is reluctantly considering going commercial to advance conservation efforts.

"I'm in despair," she sighed. "Maybe I will have to adopt a more commercial approach. How else is [Jiuliliang] going to survive?"

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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