Members of the 30th Session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC), meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania (July 8-16), agreed on Wednesday to put China's giant panda habitat on the World Heritage List, the 32nd Chinese site on the list.
"We thank the Chinese government for submitting such a good application to the WHC to enrich the World Heritage List and its tremendous efforts to protect such a precious site of bio-diversity," the WHC said.
"This is a great success for China, the World Heritage Convention, and for conservation in general," said David Sheppard, head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) delegation.
"It shows how the WHC can encourage governments to ensure the greatest level of protection for globally important sites," he added.
Lu Zhi, a professor from the College of Life Science at Beijing University said that Chinese governments of all levels have made sustained efforts to protect the rare giant pandas and their habitat, which covers an area of 9,245 square km between Da Duhe and Minjiang in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
The giant panda "serves as a flagship in terms of animal species and it is loved by people around the world," and "its habitat is of universal value in terms of bio-diversity," said Lu, an expert on the protection of natural heritage.
"That's why UNESCO's World Heritage Center was keen to put it on the list," she added.
Former China Director of the WWF, James Harkness, said previously that the panda's territory was one of the most critical regions for bio-diversity conservation in the world. Its diverse habitats contain many rare and endangered animals and plant species.
The inclusion is of great significance in better protecting other rare animal species such as golden-haired monkeys and antelopes, as well as plant species that number in the tens of thousands in the area.
"To protect an animal is not just to put it in a zoo, but to keep it alive in its own home," Lu said.
Wang Fengwu, a member of the Chinese delegation, told reporters that China has spent 20 years trying to get the panda habitat on the World Heritage List.
China's doggedness was appreciated by the WHC, which put the giant panda habitat proposal at the top of the agenda for discussion.
The giant pandas and their habitat will be protected in the future not only in accordance with Chinese law but also international law.
As China is not one of the 21 members of the WHC, it did not submit a report on the site, Wang told reporters, adding that the WHC agreed to place the site on the list after deliberating a report submitted by international experts.
Experts said in the report that urgent improvements have to be made to protect the site. They proposed that construction and development inside the habitat area be strictly controlled.
Other international sites that made it to the list were Colombia's Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, and Finland's Kvarken Archipelago.
The Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary forms part of the critical marine biological corridor with the Galapagos, Cocos and Coiba islands, also World Heritage sites.
Its extensive marine area of 857,150 hectares is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and is important to the maintenance and replenishment of a number of threatened and endangered marine species.
The coastline of Finland's Kvarken Archipelago was recognized by the WHC for its global value in demonstrating the Earth's geological processes.
It is an extension of the High Coast of Sweden, another World Heritage site, because of the uplift of the earth's crust following the retreat of the last Ice Age glaciers in the area some 10,000 years ago.
In another development, the WHC decided not to put the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia, on the List of World Heritage in Danger despite escalating threats to the site. But the WHC said it would consider adding the site to the list next year if the situation doesn't improve.
The number of sites on this list was reduced from 15 to 13 following the removal of the Tunisia's Ichkeul National Park and Senegal's Djoudj Bird Sanctuary.
The ruins of the Shang Dynasty capital in Anyang City in Henan Province are under discussion for inclusion in the cultural heritage list.
(Xinhua News Agency July 13, 2006)