The rebirth of rare species reflects the conservation of biodiversity in China

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Chinese diagonal gazelles living in Qinghai province (northwest China) Photo: courtesy of Ge Yuxiu

Editor’s Note:

China has made great strides in protecting the environment and maintaining biodiversity in recent decades. Cases of restoring populations of species such as giant pandas, Asian elephants, and snow leopards are familiar to people around the world. However, there are still many stories of rare wildlife that have yet to be shared.

The first phase of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) has been successfully concluded in Kunming, Yunnan Province, southwest China. The Global Times has collected five untold stories of previously threatened animals and plants, which will illustrate China’s efforts to maintain biodiversity in a broader sense.

Chinese white dolphins: a wise solution

China’s wisdom in minimizing environmental damage when building the world’s longest sea bridge – the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) – which crosses the water which is the primary habitat of Chinese white dolphins, served as scientific inspiration to prevent risks to marine life.

The design team has put a lot of effort into controlling the ecological impact of the bridge, under the guidance of national biodiversity programs.

To meet the Chinese government’s priority of preserving the natural habitat of white dolphins, construction of the HZMB which began in 2009 has committed funds of 340 million yuan ($ 52.76 million) to protection efforts.

The rare Chinese white dolphin is under first-class state protection and lives primarily in the Pearl River estuary in southeast China.

A Chinese white dolphin Photo: IC

A Chinese white dolphin Photo: IC

Meng Fanchao, chief designer of the bridge, said in a recent exclusive interview with the Global Times that the team is constantly revising the design schemes to minimize disruption to dolphins, such as shortening the construction period and reducing the number of pillars. that dolphins could collide with. .

The construction crew was not allowed to perform large-scale excavation work that could cause floating waste during peak white dolphin breeding season from April to August.

The number of jetties has been strictly reduced from 318 to 224, Meng also noted.

The vigilance of the workers was important during construction, and was aided by training and education.

Monitoring and investigation of dolphins in Lingding Bay and their other habitats is still ongoing, Meng said. “We are now confident to say that the HZMB Bridge is the leader in environmental protection among world-class very large bridges. “

Przewalski’s horse: a good problem

With an evolutionary history of over 60 million years, Przewalski’s horse is considered the only truly wild horse species that exists today.

Once extinct in China due to excessive poaching and environmental degradation, China began to reintroduce Przewalski’s horses from the UK, US and Germany in 1985, primarily breeding the precious creatures from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China.

On August 28, 2001, China successfully returned Przewalski’s first group of horses to Kalamaili Ungulate Nature Reserve in Xinjiang.

Przewalski's horses Photo: VCG

Przewalski’s horses Photo: VCG

Yang Jianming, director of the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding and Research Center, told the Global Times that after more than 30 years of hard work, the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding and Research Center has successfully bred more than 800 wild horses over six generations, making it the largest Przewalski horse breeding base in the world.

By 2020, Przewalski’s horse count in Xinjiang had increased to 484, including 274 horses in the wild, 113 horses in semi-captivity and 97 horses in captivity, according to the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding and Research Center. The Kalamaili reserve had 274, 10 times more than in 2001.

According to Yang, the number of Przewalski’s horses must reach around 2,500 to form a stable population in the wild. Through more than 30 years of development, the “Wild Horse Returning Home” project has accumulated a lot of experience in animal release and provided a good reference and a good model for the reintroduction of other species in China.

Chinese diagonal gazelle: a secure future

In their darkest days, the population of Chinese diagonal gazelles was less than 300, not more than giant pandas.

The species, also known as the Przewalski’s gazelle, is a unique species in China. It is currently only present in a small area around Qinghai Lake in Qinghai Province (northwest China). It is one of the most generated gazelles in the world.

Due to human activities such as hunting and fencing, along with other problems with pests, wolves, winter drought, and isolated population, the species was almost extinct in the 1990s.

In November 1997, while taking pictures of wild swans, photographer Ge Yuxiu first encountered the Chinese Diagonal Gazelle. “There were seven of them, jumping and running in a line. Their white tails looked like lotuses in the meadow,” Ge said.

A Chinese diagonal gazelle Photo: Courtesy of Ge Yuxiu

A Chinese diagonal gazelle Photo: Courtesy of Ge Yuxiu

It happened too quickly and Ge couldn’t take a perfect shot. However, the unclear photo turned out to be the first time the mysterious and rare animals were captured behind closed doors.

He then decided to call on more people to join the team to protect these fragile and adorable animals.

In recent years, volunteers and governments have worked together to protect Przewalski’s gazelle by constructing watering ponds, reserving migration channels, removing mesh fences and barbed wire, and feeding overwintering fodder.

After two decades of natural conservation with the efforts of different parties, the population of the valuable species has increased by about 10 times, making it an outstanding example of China’s achievements in ecosystem and environmental conservation. on the Qinghai-Xizang plateau.

Sanjiangyuan National Park, where three large rivers arise and is home to the Przewalski gazelle, has been announced as part of the first batch of national parks in China. The future of wildlife in the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, including the Przewalski gazelle, will be secured.

Paphiopedilum, the “pandas of the plant world” saved

Although there are at least 25,000 species of orchids on Earth and eight percent of all flowering plants are orchids, some of them are threatened with extinction and have been dubbed the “pandas of the plant world. “.

Zhang Shibao, a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, paid special attention to the endangered strain, called paphiopedilum, after spending more than two decades on the entire orchid family.

When the rare wild paphiopedilum was discovered in the 1970s, it caused a stir in the international horticultural community and demand was high in the international market due to its ornamental and cultural value.

Paphiopedilum Photo: Li Hao / GT

Paphiopedilum Photo: Li Hao / GT

“People have gone crazy for its color, flower shape and fragrance, not only in China, but also in Europe,” he recalled. “These collectors came to China and Southeast Asia for them, as they also had a long tradition of growing orchids. In the heyday of the 1980s, a paphiopedilum plant could sell for $ 8,000.”

Zhang’s team is working on artificial propagation and cultivation methods that can effectively protect wild orchids. The number of paphiopedilum malipoense has risen from a dozen in the wild to 10,000 thanks to the research team’s careful conservation efforts.

These propagated plants will be brought back to their place of origin, where they can participate in their original ecosystem composed of certain fungi and pollinators to help the recovery of the wild population.

Acer yangbiens: innovation wins

The concept of plant species with extremely small populations (PSESP) was raised by Chinese scientist Sun Weibang of the Kunming Institute of Botany under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2013.

PSESP is characterized by small remaining populations (far below the minimum viable MVP population), restricted habitat, extremely high risk of extinction, and exposure to severe human disturbance.

The work of Sun and his team has brought acer yangbiense back to the brink of extinction, as only five of them have been found in the wild as a new species since 2001.

It is a species of maple whose distribution is very restricted in the county of Yangbi, in the province of Yunnan (southwest of China). The tree can reach up to 20 meters in height with new twigs visibly pubescent. The leaves are five-lobed and large with pale pubescence on the veins on the underside of the leaves.

Pollination and seed germination were two key issues scientists needed to solve in terms of artificial propagation. Due to the long distance between each plant, the progression of pollination was extremely difficult in nature. A local villager found a way: During the flowering season, the branches of one tree were cut and tied to another tree, with surprising degrees of success. Scientists collected a batch of seeds in 2008.

Acer Yangbiens Photo: CASS

Acer Yangbiens Photo: CASS

In its natural habitat, the seed germination rate of acer yangbiense is extremely low. The local forest service regularly planted over 50,000 seeds, but only 5 seedlings were obtained. After researching, Sun and his team mastered key “awakening” seed technology and successfully cultivated over 1,600 acer yangbiense plants.

More than 50 acer yangbiense plants cultivated by Sun Weibang’s team have been planted in Kunming Botanical Garden, and more than 4,600 have been transplanted to their places of origin. In addition, 4,000 trees have been planted on neighboring farms for conservation near the site. Another of the 38,000 plants is waiting to be returned to nature from the nursery. He said that after years of work it can be said that acer yangbiense is now out of danger.

The acer yangbiense case formed a systematic mechanism for the conservation of PSESP around the world, including stages such as resource investigation, scientific research, on-site conservation, near-site conservation, conservation off-site, the return to nature and the conservation of genetic resources.


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