Panda park takes care of liveli­hoods too

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO -

CHENGDU — Wang Dezhi re­calls the first time he vis­ited the Old Creek for­est farm in 2010.

Then, fish used to be poi­soned and wild an­i­mals were shot for cash.

Now a na­ture re­serve in south­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince, Old Creek plays a key role in a planned na­tional park that will unite the iso­lated habi­tats of 1,864 gi­ant pan­das in the wild.

The trans­for­ma­tion has changed the for­tunes of both the peo­ple and the wildlife in the area.

The na­tional park, cov­er­ing 27,134 square kilo­me­ters, will be three times the size of Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park in the United States.

It will have four ma­jor parts: a core pro­tec­tion area; a restora­tion area; a tour­ing and ed­u­ca­tion zone; and an area for liv­ing and pro­duc­tion.

The park will have cor­ri­dors link­ing 67 panda re­serves on six moun­tain ranges.

A state-owned for­est farm es­tab­lished in the 1970s, Old Creek is one of the nat­u­ral cor­ri­dors link­ing habi­tats in north­ern Gansu and Sichuan. In 1998, China halted log­ging there.

Re­call­ing how dif­fi­cult it was to make changes, Wang, the chief sci­en­tist of the Par­adise Foun­da­tion, a Sichuan­based con­ser­va­tion group, says: “Poach­ing and col­lect­ing herbs were easy ways to make money. So, the vil­lagers did not care much about the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Then, after two years of re­search and ne­go­ti­a­tion, the foun­da­tion and Pingwu County, where the farm is lo­cated, signed a 50-year land trust con­tract where the foun­da­tion was charged with pro­tect­ing Old Creek Na­ture Re­serve.

“We then re­al­ized that there were two key fac­tors for con­ser­va­tion: fend­ing off poach­ers and find­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able ways for lo­cals to make a bet­ter liv­ing,” says Wang.

Mean­while, the foun­da­tion is pro­mot­ing or­ganic farm­ing at nearby Minzhu vil­lage, in Gao­cun town­ship.

Speak­ing about the ini­tia­tive, Shu Cheng, who li­aises with the farm­ers, says: “We buy the pro­duce so long as the farm­ers use en­vi­ron­ment­friendly meth­ods and the pro­duce is free of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers. We pay higher prices than the lo­cal mar­ket.”

Chen Xi­ao­hong raises free- range chick­ens and pigs and grows wal­nuts, peanuts and corn. Last year, Chen’s fam­ily earned around 50,000 yuan ($7,355), al­most dou­ble their in­come six years ago.

Now, 90 ru­ral fam­i­lies have joined the or­ganic farm­ing pro­gram and each fam­ily had in­creased their in­come by at least 10,000 yuan a year, says Sun Jun, the head of the Gao­cun town­ship.

Sun says this has kept poach­ers at bay and Old Creek Na­ture Re­serve has re­gained its bio­di­ver­sity.

Since 2016, in­frared cam­eras cap­tured pho­tos of gi­ant pan­das 55 times within the 110 sq km of the re­serve.

Giv­ing de­tails, Hou Rong, di­rec­tor of Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing, says: “We used to stress on pro­tect­ing the pan­das, but the lack of cap­i­tal and a uni­fied plan ren­dered many re­serves un­able to keep the sys­tem on track.”

Since the park plan was an­nounced in March, two mines have closed within Gao­cun town­ship. But many work­ers have found new jobs as Old Creek Na­ture Re­serve rangers.

Chen Xianghui, a former worker at Old Creek for­est farm, now leads pa­trols around the moun­tains four times a week to de­ter poach­ers and check that the 80 in­frared cam­eras are work­ing.

The foun­da­tion has also trained lo­cal peo­ple as tour guides.

“We are also help­ing fam­i­lies ren­o­vate their homes as com­mer­cial ac­com­mo­da­tion,” says Wang.

Sichuan is also plan­ning to cre­ate an in­ter­na­tional panda tourist trail by in­te­grat­ing the panda re­search cen­ters and the re­serves.

“In such a vast area with such a di­verse ecol­ogy, con­ser­va­tion needs the sup­port of the lo­cals,” says Wang. “This park is in the in­ter­est of both pan­das and hu­mans.”

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