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China's first national park receives first Golden Week tourists

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Shudu Lake in Pudacuo National Park
Shudu Lake in Pudacuo National Park

This past National Day Golden Week holiday marked a significant first for Chinese travelers - it was the first time that tourists could visit a national park in mainland China. After an initial trial period, the inauguration in June of China's first national park - Pudacuo National Park in Yunnan's Shangri-la County - is a major first for Chinese conservation efforts and a prelude to China's ambitious plan for many more national parks to come in the near future.

Nestled deep in the mountains of northwest Yunnan at an elevation ranging from 3,500 to 4,000 meters, Pudacuo (普达措) is an integral part of the Three Parallel Rivers Scenic Area, recognized as much for its dramatic topological contours and rich biodiversity, as for its stunning natural beauty.

The name "Pudacuo" comes from the local Tibetan word for the divine assistance that ensures boat passengers a safe journey across the many lakes dotting the area. Foremost among the lakes in the park are the Bita and Shudu lakes, though the extended wetlands area extends far beyond to encompass forested mountains, grasslands in river valleys and a great abundance of rare plants and animals.

Owing to the complexity of Pudacuo's ecosystem, its biological diversity, and the beauty of its natural scenery, ecological conservation in the area has become an urgent priority. Starting in 2006, the Yunnan Provincial Government's Research Office, the Southwest Forestry University and the government of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture attained the support of The Nature Conservancy to launch a national park initiative starting with the Bita and Shudu Lake high elevation wetlands area as the first site. Under this ambitious plan, all parties involved including local government and protection agencies, tourist enterprises and local agro-pastoralists have been actively engaged in the design of Pudacuo National Park.

By 2007 The role of The Nature Conservancy's China Program in facilitating the Chinese government's interest in this new conservation model was formally recognized by the EU-China Biodiversity Program with a generous grant of US$1.6 million to support the Conservancy's conservation efforts for Meili Snow Mountain and Laojun Mountain.

Although the Pudacuo region comprises only 0.7 percent of China's land area, it contains more than 20 percent of the country's plant species, about one-third of its mammal and bird species and almost 100 endangered species. Protecting the area as China's first national park is a major step toward developing a national park system that will preserve China's most fragile and important ecosystems. "Pudacuo National Park is significant," said Jerry Chen, Project Manager of The Nature Conservancy's Yunnan Program, "more land is protected through this new model than could have been done before."

However, many questions have plagued policy-makers as to how to implement effective protection and rational usage policies in high elevation lake areas that take the traditional ethnic culture of its inhabitants fully into account. To provide answers to some of these questions, The Nature Conservancy has provided support to these local agencies, undertaking a long-term study to propose methods for establishing conservation development in these national parks. The Conservancy has been working closely with these local stakeholders to ensure that conservation plans achieve the protection of Pudacuo's abundant biological resources while encouraging local people to partake in environmental education and share in the positive economic benefits that can result from a prudently planned national park design.

It is the hope of all involved that through the consistent efforts of the many local governing agencies and research bodies in addition to the support of the Nature Conservancy, Pudacuo will become a model - both by preserving the pristine state of its biologically diverse wetlands areas and surrounding old-growth forests, and as the first among many new national parks to come in China.

Thanks to The Nature Conservancy for providing us with information about Pudacuo National Park. If your organization has news about its operations in Yunnan province that you would like to share with GoKunming readers, please get in touch with us via our contact form.

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