China has just revealed its first-ever group of national parks, all of which focus on preservation of specific animals native to the country — including, yes, pandas.
Altogether, the protected land area from the parks covers a total of 230,000 square kilometers (88,800 square miles), from far northern Tibet to the southern holiday island of Hainan.
China has been exploring the establishment of an institutional system for the protection of natural ecosystems since the country established its first nature reserve in 1956.
Now, there are more than 10,000 of these reserves, which have played important roles in protecting biodiversity.
However, Chinese authorities acknowledged that there have been issues when managing these nature reserves — namely, different local departments responsible for the same sites would have unclear boundaries and responsibilities.
The establishment of the National Park System, which organizes all of these sites under a single umbrella, was the solution.
So, where will these parks be, and how accessible will they be for visitors?
Giant Panda National Park, which will surely be a hit with the swells of tourists who come every year to see some of the world’s cutest vulnerable animals, was among those announced this week.
According to an official press release, this park “covers three Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, and crosses the Minshan, Qionglai, Daxiangling and Qinling mountains.” The region is the panda’s natural habitat, and more than 75 percent of the wild population of the animals live here.
Meanwhile, the intersection of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces will be home to Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, which sets out to protect the habitats of those two species. It is the only area in China where both the wild Siberian tiger and Siberian leopards both settle.
Hainan Island is home to China’s best-preserved tropical rainforest. It is also the only place in the world where the Hainan black-crested gibbon can be found. Now, Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park will protect the gibbons and their environment.
Some of the parks are more focused on multiple animals than one specific species. One of those is Wuyishan National Park, which will serve as a gene bank for a variety of rare and endangered species. It’s located in Fujian province and will unite several existing natural areas — Fujian Wuyi Mountain National Nature Reserve, Wuyi Mountain National Scenic Area and the Upper Jiuqu River Protection Zone — into one park under the same management.
Likewise, Sanjiangyuan National Park on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will be an important center for biodiversity, especially as the hinterland faces challenges from climate change. This region is the source for three of China’s most important rivers — the Yellow River, the Lancang River, and the Yangtze River.
In addition, these national parks have put in protections for the people who already live in the areas.
According to China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Sanjiangyuan National Park has hired 17,200 herders to be “ecological managers,” or rangers, at the park. Each will have a guaranteed annual income of 20,000 yuan ($31,000) per year, which provides a more stable way of making a living.
Meanwhile at Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, officials have instituted “livelihood projects” such as village construction, cattle farming, and alternative agricultural training.
There will be benefits for park visitors as well. Sanjianyuan already has some tourist programs in place, and it will be a way for foreign tourists to experience the expansive Tibetan landscape. Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park is developing crowd control measures and ticketed timing to prevent overcrowding and give guests a chance to truly experience nature.