Zoologists working in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve are in the process of conducting a months-long study to more accurately determine animal populations living along the Yunnan-Laos border. Their findings so far — especially concerning rare and endangered animals — have been encouraging, according to research scientists involved with the project.
The most notable discoveries made during the survey — first begun in mid-2015 and continuing today — have concerned several mammal species, including species of bears, deer, and wild cats. The animals were sometimes observed in person, but more often captured on film by motion-sensor cameras equipped with night vision capabilities.
Researchers have focused on Mengla County (勐腊县) in southern Xishuangbanna, which contains part of a cross-border nature reserve jointly managed with Laos. The surrounding region faces a litany of threats to its biodiversity, with the largest dangers posed by deforestation and the spread of rubber, fruit and tea monoculture plantations.
However, the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve (XNNR) encompasses 3,000 square kilometers of land, 500 of which are classified by the Chinese government as virgin forest. It is in this pocket of undisturbed wilderness where scientists found black bears, palm civets and Asian golden cats. The presence of these three species, all of which are carnivorous, is a good sign, according to XNNR director Yang Hongpei (杨鸿培). He explained to reporters that large carnivores indicate:
...biodiversity in the region is still fairly-well preserved, with a more complete ecosystem and food chain [than previously thought]. This indicates that the region has a high scientific and conservation value, and also shows that the tropical rainforest in Xishuangbanna contains many scientific discoveries yet to be made.
While the presence of predators is an encouraging sign, other finds made during the survey may point to the effects of climate change. The sightings of mouse deer in southern Yunnan were all made above elevations of 1,000 meters, marking a first in the world. The diminutive ungulate — called shulu (鼠鹿) in Chinese — typically grows no larger than eight kilograms. Populations of the solitary animals exist across South and Southeast Asia, but have never been observed living at an elevation higher than 600 meters.
Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve scientists have yet to determine why Yunnan's mouse deer have moved to higher ground, or for that matter, what population sizes for any of the 23 endangered animals observed in the survey may be. Director Yang said the findings should be a call to action, stressing the need for urgent investigation and "emergency protective action".
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