Yunnan leads the way in protecting rare flora and fauna

By Cui Can
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 15, 2021
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A sample of Manglietiastrum sinicum (L) collected by researchers in the wild and a transplanted Manglietiastrum sinicum plant growing in the Kunming Botanical Garden in Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo/Xinhua]

"By taking multiple measures to protect biodiversity, Yunnan has successfully protected about 100 species of animals and plants with extremely small populations from the risk of extinction over the past decade," said Yang Wenzhong, an expert from the Yunnan Academy of Forestry during the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties of UN to Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15, currently underway in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province.

Yang, also director of the Yunnan Key Laboratory of Forest Plant Cultivation and Utilization and the State Forestry Administration Key Laboratory of Yunnan Rare and Endangered Species Conservation and Propagation, said that Yunnan was the first province in China to put forward an initiative to protect "animal and plant species with extremely small populations."

The initiative prioritizes species that are facing an elevated risk of extinction, characterized by small remaining populations in restricted habitats and exposure to serious human disturbance.

Speaking of the reasons for protecting species with extremely small populations, Yang pointed to the close ties between different animal and plant species within the ecosystem as a whole. "The extinction of one species may lead to the extinction of another roughly 20 or 30 species of animals and plants," he said.

In particular, he stressed that indigenous people play an important role in protecting endangered animal and plant species, with the protection measures capable of providing huge economic benefits for local people as well, helping them to escape poverty and create more wealth.

From endangered plant to cash crop

In recent years, Malania oleifera, an endangered and highly valued tree species endemic to China, has been transformed into a cash crop in Guangnan county of Wenshan Zhuang and Miao autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province.

Fruit from the Malania oleifera, an endangered and highly valued tree species endemic to China. [Photo/Xinhua]

In 1999, Malania oleifera was included on the list of national key protected wild plants published by the State Council, and designated as a key protected item in the emergency action plan for the rescue and protection of species with extremely small populations in Yunnan province in 2012.

Since then, Guangnan county has ramped up protection efforts by adopting measures including resource surveying, strengthening the construction of the protection community, building a germplasm bank, and standardizing fruit harvesting.

In addition to its protection work, Guangnan county is also working on the artificial cultivation of Malania oleifera and increasing research and development into various related products. Since the tree is of great value in the production of nervonic acid, the price of its fruit can reach 40 yuan/kg, making it a veritable cash crop for the villagers.

China's approach to biodiversity protection

"The initiative to protect 'species with extremely small populations' has been recognized by more international organizations, government departments and the public," Yang explained, adding that the model has the potential to help tackle biodiversity loss elsewhere in the world.

An aerial photo shows wild Asian elephants resting in the Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, June 7, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

In recent years, Yunnan has taken a leading role in advocating the protection of animal and plant species with extremely small populations in China, and has made many successful practices and achievements over the decade.

More than 120 rescue and protection projects targeting species with extremely small populations have been implemented during the last five years, and 30 protection zones of varying sizes have been established.

By adopting in-situ, ex-situ and regressive conservation measures, thousands of Cyclobalanopsis sichourensis plants have been successfully bred from 17 individuals in the field. Meanwhile, 20 species of wild plants with extremely small populations, such as Manglietiastrum sinicum and Pinus squamaia, have been bred to create 100,000 plants, of which more than 3,000 have so far been returned to nature. The Asian elephant population size has doubled from around 150 in 1978 to more than 300, Yunnan snub-nose monkeys have gone from 1,400 in 2000 to 3,000 today, and black-necked cranes have increased from 1,600 in 1996 to 3,000.

In 2012, the National Level Implementation Plan for Rescuing and Conserving China's PSESPs (plant species with extremely small populations) (2011-15) was issued by the State Forestry Administration and the National Development and Reform Commission.

According to Yang, the plan was a major milestone as it prioritized conservation for the first group of 120 PSESPs, selected based on their status as national or provincial key protected flora.

Yang Wenzhong, an expert at the Yunnan Academy of Forestry, answers questions during an interview held during the COP15 in Kunming, Yunnan province, Oct. 12, 2021. [Photo by Cui Can/]

A new draft list of PSESPs covering around 100 species is expected to be released soon in Yunnan, and at least five protection bases for ex-situ conservation of PSESPs will be set up in the province over the next 10 years.

Yang is also calling for closer global cooperation on conserving biodiversity. "Biodiversity loss is manifested most obviously and most consistently by the disappearance of rare species," he said. "Against this background, global conservation action must focus on the long-term future of rare species, through programs such as PSESPs."

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