TRAVEL Walking the wild side

TRAVEL

Walking the wild side

China Daily

09:08, November 24, 2022

A research team treks above the clouds searching for snow leopards. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Ranger places life on the line patrolling dangerous terrain, but he believes the rewards are worth the risk, Wang Qian reports.

China is home to 56 UNESCO World Heritage sites. To find out how these natural and cultural gems still shine and continue to inspire the nation in this new era of development, China Daily is running a series of reports covering 10 groups of selected sites from across the country. In this installment, we take a close look at picture-perfect Jiuzhaigou and its diverse wildlife, as well as the culinary tradition of Sichuan province.

The day starts early for Shi Xiaogang, a wildlife ranger at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Southwest China's Sichuan province. Before 6 am, he is ready and geared up, carrying a large backpack weighing about 20 kilograms.

Usually consisting of 10 rangers, Shi's team conducts long-range patrols, lasting up to two weeks, in some of the most extreme environments in the reserve. Every year, they spend more than 200 days on the front line of wildlife conservation.

As head of the reserve's Mujiangping protection station, Shi monitors the population of giant pandas and snow leopards, helps mitigate human-animal conflict and educates local communities. It is a challenging and, often, dangerous job.

Throughout his 30-year career, the senior ranger has frequently put his life on the line to protect Wolong's endangered wildlife.

"In the wild, you must be prepared for tough situations, such as landslides, avalanches or even a vicious wild animal," the 50-year-old ranger says, adding that survival techniques are necessary for work in the wilderness.

Covering about 200,000 hectares, Wolong is home to one of the largest remaining giant panda populations in China. Thanks to rangers like Shi, the number of wild giant pandas in the reserve has increased from 104, according to the fourth national panda survey released in 2015, to 149, says a DNA-based study released last year. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced that the giant panda's status had been changed from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on its Red List of Threatened Species.

As well as "the home of giant pandas", the reserve is widely known as a "bio-gene bank". It features a great number of endemic and threatened species of plants and animals, including other iconic creatures, such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard among the 121 species of mammals recorded. There are also 392 bird species.

To mark their hard work and contribution to wildlife protection in the reserve, last year, Shi's 20-member squad was recognized with special commendations at an online award ceremony for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas' International Ranger Awards.

Kathy MacKinnon, head of the commission, speaks highly of the rangers' work, saying that they are "critical to our global conservation efforts, helping to stem biodiversity loss and protect the important ecosystems that serve as natural solutions to climate change and other global challenges".

Shi realizes that through protecting endangered animals, like giant pandas and snow leopards, the rich biodiversity of the environment can also be maintained, which is a win-win situation.

After graduation from Sichuan Forestry School (now Sichuan Agricultural University) in 1992, Shi became a forest guardian at the Wolong National Nature Reserve. He worked on the third and fourth national panda surveys.

Established in 1963, Wolong is the country's earliest panda reserve. It experienced serious human-animal conflict, such as illegal logging and hunting before the 1990s. In 1978, an observation tent, claimed to be the country's first field camp to study wild giant pandas, was built on a steep forested slope in the reserve.

In the early 1980s, the government cooperated with the World Wide Fund for Nature to establish the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda to save the endangered animal.

In the eyes of Zhang Hemin, the center's founder and former deputy director, the Shi realizes that through protecting endangered animals, like giant pandas and snow leopards, the rich biodiversity of the environment can also be maintained, which is a win-win situation.

After graduation from Sichuan Forestry School (now Sichuan Agricultural University) in 1992, Shi became a forest guardian at the Wolong National Nature Reserve. He worked on the third and fourth national panda surveys.

Established in 1963, Wolong is the country's earliest panda reserve. It experienced serious human-animal conflict, such as illegal logging and hunting before the 1990s. In 1978, an observation tent, claimed to be the country's first field camp to study wild giant pandas, was built on a steep forested slope in the reserve.

In the early 1980s, the government cooperated with the World Wide Fund for Nature to establish the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda to save the endangered animal.

In the eyes of Zhang Hemin, the center's founder and former deputy director, the center confirms that China views the scientific protection and research of giant pandas from a global perspective.

Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the ancestor of the giant panda is the Ailurarctos that lived about 8 million years ago. Treated as a national treasure, giant pandas are one of the flagship species to be protected by the Wolong rangers.

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