China’s endangered animals may soon be getting shiny new digs in the form of four new national parks. A plan to create the new parks – for each of the country’s major endangered species – was submitted to the government in Beijing this week.
The four new parks would accommodate each of China’s endangered species – the giant panda, the Tibetan antelope, the Asian elephant, and the Siberian tiger together with the Amur leopard in one park. The plan for the parks come as part of China’s larger five-year plan to overhaul its national parks system into 20 organised parks across the country.
Sichuan province has China’s largest population of giant pandas, with 1387 in the wild and 364 in captivity. The panda park is planned to cover portions of Sichuan and neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Yao Sidan, head of Sichuan’s forestry department, told Xinhua that the park will be designed with the pandas’ native habitat in mind, while also incorporating nature reserves and scenic areas that are already in existence.
Siberian tigers and Amur leopards will be protected in a planned 15,000-sq-km park in Jilin province, near the borders of Russia and North Korea. The wild population of Siberian tigers has increased substantially over the past 75 years, but experts believe Russia is running out of available wild habitat for the big cats. In an interview with Science magazine, David Smith – a tiger expert at the University of Minnesota – said, “if they’re going to save this population, it’s really going to be the Chinese, not the Russians. All the potential land for expansion is on the China side.”
If the plan for the parks goes ahead, it could signal positive changes for China’s conservation efforts, as well as for local communities. At the Jilin park, for example, the proposal includes plans to employ former loggers and hunters as park rangers and forest workers. However, at present, the plan for the parks has only reached the proposal stage and has not yet been formalised by China’s central government.