30th Anniversary

Celebrating three decades of conservation work in China

Only in the forests of central China can one find the beloved giant panda, the elusive snow leopard and pheasants in all the colors of the rainbow, along with an amazing spectrum of biodiversity. China is known as a region of extremes.  Its dense mountain forests plunge into deep valleys through which mighty rivers flow. 

WWF was the first environmental group invited by the government to work in China—and we have been a leader in protecting the precious species and vital habitats of the country. For nearly 30 years we have achieved lasting results by reaching across political boundaries and forging relationships with communities, industry and governments at all levels. 

Some major accomplishments in the region include:

  • Collaborated with Chinese government to survey giant pandas and developed the first-ever panda conservation plan:  Little was known about the reclusive giant panda when WWF chose it as our logo in the early 1960s, but field research was conducted by WWF and partners and China's first panda survey was carried out between 1974 and 1977 by China's Ministry of Forestry (now the State Forestry Administration, or SFA). China's Second National Panda Survey was jointly conducted by WWF and the State Forestry Administration between 1985 and 1988.  By gathering this information and more, WWF and our partners were able to identify priority areas so that conservation of the giant panda could be effectively targeted. This called for both the creation of new nature reserves and for improved management in existing ones.  By the end of 2003, China had established 40 panda reserves, home to some 60% of the wild giant panda population, protecting more than 10,400 square kilometers in Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces.

  • Ensuring a forest fit for tigers:  Vast swathes of forest and wetlands in northeast China and the Russian Far East support a high diversity of flora and fauna, and are critical areas for endangered species such as the Siberian Tiger and Amur Leopard.  The forests and wetlands of the Amur/Heilongjiang River Basin are deteriorating due to conversion to agriculture, deforestation, poaching, urban expansion, mining, and pollution.  Logging of surrounding forests also places stress on the rivers and streams of this region.  Since 2001, WWF China has been working to establish new reserves and expand existing ones in the three Chinese provinces in this area - Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Inner Mongolia. WWF worked with these provinces to protect almost 8.4 million acres.  WWF China has now identified High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) in the region, and is working to both improve the management of protected areas and establish new protected areas.  And together with WWF Russia Far East, WWF China is working to create a new "Green Belt" in the Amur/Heilongjiang ecoregion.

  • Bringing life back to the Yangtze:  The Yangtze is China's longest river, cradle to her ancient culture and now a main artery of the country's booming economy. The increasing frequency of summer floods and winter droughts along the river over the last half-century show how the Yangtze's service to China's economy has not been without a price paid in lost vitality for this globally important eco-region.  Conservation of such a vast and busy waterway presents a very special challenge. WWF addressed this through applying the 'Living River' integrated river basin management concept, designing a strategy for intervention that saw the Yangtze not in isolation but as part of a 'web of life' that includes all her branches and tributaries, and also the lakes and wetlands that together make up the river basin. The success of this strategy would benefit both the wild animals and birds that live in the Yangtze and along her banks - including endangered species like the Yangtze dolphin and the Chinese sturgeon - and the human communities who live along her banks and suffer from the worsening cycle of flood and drought. In 2005, for the first time, provincial governors and key ministers from China's water, environment, forest, and agriculture sectors in the Yangtze River basin gathered to develop a common strategy and action plan for protecting the entire basin. WWF, which has collaborated with the Chinese government since 1980 in the conservation of the Yangtze River basin, is a key initiator and supporter of the Forum.

  • Working with communities on local sustainability:  WWF believes in involving local communities in natural resource management as both a matter of principle and as a strategy for more effective conservation. As part of our project at Xipanshanzhou Polder in Dongting Lake, Hunan province, WWF helped villagers from affected communities to set up management and supervision teams that made and oversaw plans for restoring reclaimed farmland to its former wetland state. The villagers also participated in the development of alternative livelihoods compatible with the project's wetland conservation aims, establishing fish breeding and eco-agriculture associations. Household incomes tripled during the course of the restoration project.  In Qingshan Polder in Hubei province, WWF helped the local community and officials from the nature reserve set up a wetland joint management committee after 5,700 villagers were moved off of land originally reclaimed from Dongting lake in the 1970s, allowing restoration to take place. Villagers were able to plan sustainable ways of using the natural resources in the reserve, earning income for themselves and the reserve as a whole by fishing, but always respecting the basic conservation objectives of the project. More than 10,000 birds and over 50 species of fish returned to Qingshan Polder in the course of the first year that resources were controlled by the joint management committee.  Also, in 2004, WWF China presented recommendations on nature reserve co-management to China's National People's Congress.

The next 30 years……and beyond  Over the past 30 years, an astounding rate of economic development and a growing population have created a region struggling to manage the resulting environmental challenges. WWF has a bold conservation vision focused on the health and survival of the region’s natural treasures, as well as the prosperity of its local communities.  WWF has created a Global China Shift Network Initiative that’s focus is sustainability – sustainable sourcing, production, and consumption – across global supply chains, to reduce the global ecological footprint.

Through this China Shift NI and the WWF programs in China, we are also providing expertise to the Chinese banking industry on green banking policies, and focusing on transforming the supply chains of priority raw materials like timber and minerals, with China as a key lever due to its influence with trade partners in both resource-rich regions like the Congo Basin and consumer countries like the U.S.