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Xinhua Headlines: Decade-long conservation efforts boost biodiversity in China's Yunnan

* Flagship species such as black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys, Asian elephants and green peacocks are seeing the recovery of their habitats in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

* With an area of only 4.1 percent of China's total land area, the border province boasts the most diverse biological and ecological system in the country, and Yunnan's total number of nature reserves has increased to 362 at all administrative levels.

* By the year 2025, Yunnan's total natural reserves aim to reach 5.56 million hectares, accounting for 14.5 percent of its land area.

KUNMING, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- From the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the tropical rainforests in Xishuangbanna, flagship species such as black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys, Asian elephants and green peacocks are seeing the recovery of their habitats in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

With an area of only 4.1 percent of China's total land area, the border province boasts the most diverse biological and ecological system in the country, and Yunnan's total number of nature reserves has increased to 362 at all administrative levels.

Over the past decade, the protection rate of key wildlife and plants in the province has notched up 83 percent and 77 percent, respectively. The population of Asian elephants has reached about 360, and that of black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys 3,800.

"By the year 2025, the province is expected to have built one national park for Asian elephants and two parks in Gaoligong Mountain and Shangri-La in the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Meanwhile, Yunnan's total natural reserves aim to reach 5.56 million hectares, accounting for 14.5 percent of its land area," said Tian Jianhong, deputy director of the provincial forestry and grassland administration.

Photo taken on May 31, 2020 shows ottelia acuminata in Erhai Lake, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Jiang Wenyao)

COORDINATED ACTION

To protect the environment in a coordinated manner, Yunnan has included biodiversity as part of its conservation efforts of mountain, river, forest, farmland, lake, grassland, and desert ecosystems, according to Cao Yongheng, an official with the provincial department of ecology and environment.

Among the many key areas of biodiversity conservation is Erhai Lake, one of the plateau lakes in the province.

Wang Feng, a 44-year-old resident near Erhai Lake in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, began to see ottelia acuminata blossom again in Erhai Lake.

As an indicator species of the environment, ottelia acuminata exists in fresh water on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and serves as an important ingredient for dishes of the Bai people.

Due to the rapid growth of the population and expansion of tourism, pollution-caused eutrophication worsened in Erhai Lake, and ottelia acuminata was decimated by the outbreak of blue algae.

To better protect the Erhai Lake and preserve its biodiversity, Yunnan started to repair the environment in the lake by controlling pollution and removing illicit constructions.

As of 2020, the local authority of Dali City had moved over 1,800 households away from the lake shore, and the lake's water quality has improved, too.

This water quality improvement allowed ottelia acuminata to reappear in Erhai Lake, and Wang can now take a stroll around the lake and see the flowers scattered throughout the lake again.

Photo taken on Oct. 20, 2021 shows the vitro storage room at the Germplasm Bank of Wild Species in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Jiang Wenyao)

Dali schizothorax, which is usually referred to as "bow fish" for its bow-like shape when propelling itself forward to swim upstream, also faces the threat of extinction.

The habitat of Dali schizothorax was severely damaged as a result of the introduction of non-indigenous species, construction of cofferdams, as well as local water pollution. In 1988, the fish was put under national second-class protection.

To revive the population of Dali schizothorax, the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) worked with a biotech company to breed the fish with artificial reproduction technologies. So far, over 60,000 fries of Dali schizothorax have been bred.

In addition to the breeding technology, fishery authorities in Dali also established three protection centers for schizothorax, and artificially bred fish fries are released into the Jinsha River annually.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

To strengthen biodiversity protection, Yunnan encourages broad participation in its protection efforts, which involves not only governments at all levels but also enterprises, social institutions, non-governmental organizations and the public, said Xia Feng, an official with the provincial ecology and environment department.

A black-and-white snub-nosed monkey is pictured at the Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey National Park in Shangri-La, Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Yunnan Province, March 16, 2021. (Xinhua/Hu Chao)

In Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve, whenever Yu Xiaode is asked to introduce the black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys that he takes care of, he would mention every alpha male and their family members with great familiarity.

Yu, a member of the Lisu ethnic group, is a part-time forest ranger.

He is among nearly 17,000 local villagers recruited by Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture as government-paid forest rangers through local ecological poverty-relief programs. The locals can secure extra income, while also becoming beneficiaries of their ecological conservation efforts.

Under national first-class protection, the black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys are dubbed the "snow mountains elves." However, their population was significantly reduced due to hunting and logging, a traditional way of life of local villagers.

Ever since the establishment of the nature reserve, the local government has implemented a series of measures such as launching joint protection action with local communities, carrying out scientific and research monitoring, as well as encouraging more participation from the public.

By the end of 2021, the monkey species' population had grown from less than 500 at the beginning of the nature reserve's establishment to more than 3,800.

Besides the Baima Snow Mountain, Yunnan has created a system of nature reserves for other rare and endangered species like the Asian elephant.

An Asian elephant forages near a village in Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County of Pu'er, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Aug. 1, 2022. (Xinhua/Jiang Wenyao)

To popularize knowledge about Asian elephants, Yunnan's Wild Elephant Valley has recruited some Asian elephant rescue staff as part-time docents.

"The public now has a stronger faith in elephant protection and is more willing to learn about our career," said Yang Tao, a rescuer of Asian elephants at the valley.

"The joint efforts of both government and the locals to protect Asian elephants and rainforests is exemplary, showcasing China's efforts in ensuring the harmony between humanity and nature," said Chen Fei, director of the Asian elephant research center under the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

Following the establishment of a national park for Asian elephants, the existing habitat range for the elephants is set to be expanded, and more unified protection and management systems will be built in China.

China's national park system can draw public attention, leading to a lot of social discussions on biodiversity protection, said Kang Aili, regional strategic director of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"This in turn will help encourage more social support and participation and raise public awareness," Kang added.

(Video reporter: Sun Min, Wang Anhaowei; Video editors: Zheng Xin, Mu Xurao, Liu Ruoshi.) ■