In Big Win For Big cat, China Approves National Park Larger Than Yellowstone

In yet another example of agreen revolution in the country, Chinese officials have approved plans to establish a sprawling national park in the northeastern corner of the country. It will be a sanctuary for two cats endemic to the area that have hung dangerously close to extinction: the Amur leopard and the Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger.

The park in the governorates of Jilin and Heilongjiang will be part of Chinas brand-new national park system and will span 5,600 square miles an region 60 percentage larger than Yellowstone National Park.A comprehensive plan and pilotfor the park is expected to be rolled out before 2020.

Environmentalists are celebrating the news.

Dale Miquelle, a conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a big cat expert, said the sanctuary will be one of the largest big cat reserves in the world.

Chinas commitment represents an extremely important step in recovering both subspecies in northeast Asia, he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

The Washington Post/ Getty Images The park will be located in the Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, the latter of which borders both North Korea and Russia. In this photograph, taken in Jilin’s Hunchun area, lands from all three countries can be seen. The land with a lake on the left is Russia, the land in the middle is China, and the right side of the Tumen river is North Korea.

The Worlds Rarest Cat

The Amur leopard and tiger are among the most endangered big cat on Earth.

In 2007, the Amur leopards global population in the wild plunged to less than 30. The International Union for Conservation of Nature said at the time that the animal used to go locally extinct in China and the Korean peninsula, two areas that had once been in its range. Only a tiny population of the leopard remained in Russias Primorsky province, researchers told, adding that the survivors were facing numerous menaces, including encroaching civilization, new roads, poaching, exploitation of woodlands and climate change.

The Amur tiger had faced a similarly dire future decades earlier.Hunting and other human activitiesdecimated populations of the Amur tiger, oncefound in abundance in parts of Russia, China and the Korean peninsula. In the 1940 s, merely about 40 Amur tigers were believed to have existed in the wild.

Russell Cheyne/ Reuters Amur tiger cubs play in the snow.

Like the leopard, the surviving tigers were found mostly in northeastern Russia, where some conservation measures were introduced under Soviet rule.

It was a different story in other areas. By the early- to mid-1 900 s, the Amur tiger was assumed extinct in South Korea( the tigers status in North Korea is unknown ). Populations in China had dropped to fewer than five animals around the same period, Miquelle said.

JEFF PACHOUD/ Getty Images Of all the world’s leopards, the Amur is the most endangered.

But in the intervening years, both big cats have made a steady comeback in the region.

In the 1990 s, China stopped logging in the area where tigers and leopards wander, and banned civilian handgun ownership, which helped reduce the threat of hunters.The government also generated Hunchun Tiger Leopard Nature Reserve in 2002, a small patch of habitat along the Sino-Russian perimeter.

Thanks to these measures together with efforts undertaken by Russia and the work of conservation groups like World Wildlife Fund and WCS populations of both the Amur leopard and tiger appear to be regaining. The WWF said in 2015 that the Amur leopardpopulation the worlds rarest cat had doubled since 2008. Virtually 60 were counted in Russia, while up to 12 were spotted in adjacent areas in China.

The Amur tiger has enjoyed an even more impressive recovery. Today, approximately 400 of them live in the wild, mostly in Russia. But more than 30 are believed roam in the woods of northeast China, and conservationists say there are signs that the population in the country is slowly increasing.

Zhang Peng/ Getty Images Some human settlements in northeast China, like Hunchun city in Jilin province( pictured ), functions as an important corridor linking cat habitats in China and Russia. The Chinese government tells it hopes the new national park will help mitigate the conflicts that they are able arise when humans and animals live in such close proximity.

The Tiger Ate My Dog

For all the good news, though, neither cats survival is assured. Several issues, including human-animal conflict, still threaten both creatures.

A number of settlements, likeHunchun city in Jilin province, are located within the animals range. Hunchun, which borders Russia and North Korea and has a population of over 200,000, functions as an important corridor connecting cat habitats in Russia and China, Mongabay reported last year.

Residents in the area have expressed concern that the animals have been getting a little too close for comfort.

Last July, an Amur tiger reportedly strayed into a residential area near the citys downtown and feed two puppies in one day. One resident told Xinhua in August that six of his kine had been picked off by tigers in just a few months.Another resident said she had stopped venturing into the mountains to pick mushrooms and wild vegetables out of fear.

Government officials have said that the planned national park should help ease some of these tensions. A spokesman for Jilins Forestry Department said last year that there are plans torelocate some existing communities[ and] mills from inside the national park region, so as to avoid conflicts between wildlife and human activities.

The department has also said that it will establish a monitoring and rescue center for wild tigers and leopards, as well as other scientific and research facilities, in tandem with the national park.

Fan Zhiyong, species program director with WWF Beijing, said last week that he hopes the park will not just be boon to the endangered cats of the states of the region, but will also play an essential role in protecting the unique biodiversity of the north temperate zone as a whole.

He told Xinhua that he expects the park will also promote greater cooperation between Russia and China for wildlife protection in the region.

Getty Images An amur leopard.

Chinas Ecological Civilization

The idea of a national park is a new one in China.

China has established many protected areas over the years, including thousands of nature reservescovering more than 500,000 square miles, but the system has lacked regulatory cohesion and suffered from inefficiency and mismanagement.

The Chinese government said in 2015 that it wanted to develop a national park system that would meet international standards. It partnered with the Paulson Institute, a Chicago-based research center, to do so. The government announced it would start with a series of pilot national park projects in nine provinces over a three-year period. The goal, officials said, would be to address the governance and policy shortfalls of the current system of environmental protection, although we are widening conservation efforts to other habitats and ecosystems.

President Xi Jinping announced in 2013 that China would roll out a series of environmental reforms to achieve this vision of anecological civilization ,~ ATAGENDone that could embrace economic progression while also committing to environmental sustainability.

It seems the worlds biggest polluter is on track with its plan.

In addition to the national park network, China has become the worlds biggest global investor in green technology. The country also plans to introduce the worlds largestnational cap-and-trade programthis year. China has also proven an ever increasing commitment to conservation, including, after years of pressure from activists, a ban on ivory.

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