China is a land of contrasts. It’s an ancient land, steeped in tradition – but at the same time it’s one of the most densely populated and technologically advanced nations on Earth. It’s a land where smog regularly chokes the air of cities, to the point where the country decided that it would be easier to simply lower their environmental standards rather than attempt any kind of lasting ecological reform – but China is also a country that boasts a wide variety of ecosystems and habitats.
In the small towns and villages, beyond the smoggy fingers of industrial powerhouses like Beijing and Hong Kong, you’ll find that many Chinese citizens do care about the many different plant and animal species that inhabit the valleys and mountains of their homelands, and – faced with rising industrialization and a newly uncertain future in the face of environmental reform – have taken to new, proactive measures to both defend their native biodiversity and provide a helping hand to many small, struggling villages.
The Yangtze is the third largest river in the world – at 6,300 kilometers long, it clocks in just behind the Nile and the Amazon. Starting far to the north in the Gelaindong Massif in the Tanggula Mountains of southwestern Qinghai, it flows 222 miles to the confluence of the Dangqu River. Along the way, the Yangtze nourishes thousands of different ecosystems and species – from rice paddies all the way up to tigers.
In 2016, a mining company attempted to prospect Yunta, a small Tibetan village located near the source of the Yangtze. Yunta sports mountainous terrain, and as a result it’s home to numerous high-altitude adapted creatures, including yaks and even snow leopards. The villagers were deeply upset by the proposal – not only would mining run against their Tibetan Buddhist values, but it would also pollute the river with waste metal.
Though this plan was ultimately defeated after the result of vigorous protesting and campaigning, the Yuntans had received a wake-up call regarding the fragility of their natural habitat. They decided to take conservation into their own hands – with help from Shanshui Conservation Centre, a Beijing-based NGO. These paid volunteers spend their time patrolling the river and surrounding areas, tracking different animals and keeping tabs on local predators and their prey. As compensation for their investments, volunteers receive payment and other incentives – in turn, this boosts the economies of these isolated and frequently impoverished villages. Already, the program is paying off- four other villages have united under SCC, and snow leopard numbers have already started to rebound. In the future, this plan may spread across all of China and beyond – good news for leopards and farmers alike.