All images are the property of Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com, copyright 2006.
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Many Americans probably think of China as a land of crowded cities (Shanghai) and expansive agricultural areas. In reality much of China, like the United States, is wilderness, with low population density, magnificent landscapes, and cultural diversity. On my recent trip I visited two regions that fit this description: Xinjiang in far western China, near the border of Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; and northwestern Yunnan, historically and culturally the southeastern-most part of Tibet. These are my pictures,
Photos from Xinjiang, a Muslim region in western China -- 10/09/2006
Xinjiang, China's largest and western-most province, is one of the planet's most remote and desolate regions. Covering more than one-sixth the country's territory, Xinjiang borders Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and is dominated by ethnic minorities, notably the Muslim Uyghurs who make up nearly half the 18 million who live in the province. Xinjiang's ethnic mix reflects its historical importance as a central part of the Silk Road, a trading route used since ancient times to transport good between East and West.
Saving China's golden monkey from extinction -- 10/18/2006
High in the cloud-shrouded Yunling mountains of northwestern Yunnan and southeastern Tibet (southwestern China) lives one of the world's most elusive monkeys, the Yunnan golden or snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti). Despite dwelling the most extreme environment of any monkey species -- high-altitude evergreen forests at elevations from 3000 - 4500 m (9800 - 14,800 feet) where temperatures may fall below freezing for several months in a row -- today there are less than 2000 of Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys remaining. Hunting and habitat loss has brought the species, which is limited to a single mountain range and fragmented into 15 small sub-populations at risk to genetic bottlenecks and inbreeding depression, to the brink of extinction.
Xinjiang, an autonomous province dominated by Muslims, lies in the heart of the ancient Silk Road, a trading route used since ancient times to transport good between East and West. Xinjiang is characterized by rough terrain, with dry deserts accented by some of the highest mountains in the world. Xinjiang is the largest political subdivision of China, accounting for more than one sixth of China's total territory.
Yunnan, the southwestern-most province of China, has the highest biodiversity in the country. Yunnan is drained by six major river systems -- including the Yangtze, Pearl, Mekong, Red (Yuan), Salween, and Irrawaddy -- and ranges in elevation from 76 m (250 feet) to the 6,740-meter (21,905-foot) high Kawagebo Peak. Yunnan is also home to 25 of China's ethnic minorities.
Shanghai is one of the world's largest cities with a population of around 11 million people (the urban area population is closer to 16 million).
Recent news on China:
APP acknowledges historic land-grabbing in China, pledges reform
While Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has made considerable progress on addressing social and environmental problems associated with its operations in Indonesia, the forestry giant still has much to do to rectify historic social grievances in China, says a report published by Landesa and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
Scientific association calls on Nicaragua to scrap its Gran Canal
ATBC—the world's largest association of tropical biologists and conservationists—has advised Nicaragua to halt its ambitious plan to build a massive canal across the country. The ATBC warns that the Chinese-backed canal, also known as the Gran Canal, will have devastating impacts on Nicaragua's water security, its forests and wildlife, and local people.
Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Saving the survivor: China scrambles to keep the finless porpoise from extinction
On the morning of July 14, 2002 Qi Qi ate breakfast as he always did. As the world’s only captive baiji – or Yangtze river dolphin – Qi Qi was something of a celebrity in China and his caretakers kept a close eye on his health. That care may explain why, after being injured by fishermen, he lived an impressive 22 years in the Freshwater Dolphin Research Center in Wuhan, China.
Elephants worth much, much more alive than dead, says new report
Elephants are worth 76 times more when they’re alive than dead, according to a new analysis released this past weekend. The report follows on the heels of findings by WWF that the world has lost 50 percent of its wildlife over the past 40 years, with more than half of African elephants killed for ivory in just one decade.
Officials bust one of the biggest players in illegal Indonesian manta ray trade
Writing this from a hotel room in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, I realize that I am filled with trepidation as I wait for the phone next to me to ring. When it does, the voice on the other end will tell me it’s go time; the culmination of many years of work towards ending the global trade in manta ray gills.
Chinese now emit more carbon per capita than Europeans
Last year, the people of China emitted more carbon per person than those in the EU, according this year's Global Carbon Budget. The report, updated annually, also found that global emissions jumped 2.5 percent last year and are set to hit a record high of 40 billion tonnes this year. The findings highlight how little global society has done to stem emissions, despite numerous pledges and past global agreements.
Is there hope for the vaquita? IUCN calls for action to save world's smallest, rarest porpoise
Since the baiji was declared extinct in the early aughts, the vaquita has taken its unenviable position as the world’s most threatened cetacean. The tiny porpoise currently numbers around 100, with accidental entanglement in gillnets primarily responsible for its decline. In response, the IUCN recently issued a statement calling for immediate action to curb vaquita bycatch and head off its extinction – which otherwise may lie just around the corner.
The Gran Canal: will Nicaragua's big bet create prosperity or environmental ruin?
A hundred years ago, the Panama Canal reshaped global geography. Now a new project, spearheaded by a media-shy Chinese millionaire, wants to build a 278-kilometer canal through Nicaragua. While the government argues the mega-project will change the country's dire economic outlook overnight, critics contend it will cause undue environmental damage, upend numerous communities, and do little to help local people.
How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
There's nothing in the world like a primary forest, which has never been industrially logged or cleared by humans. They are often described as cathedral-like, due to pillar-like trees and carpet-like undergrowth. Yet, the world's primary forests—also known as old-growth forests—are falling every year, and policy-makers are not doing enough to stop it.
An uncertain future: world's last wild Siberian tigers threatened by illegal logging, global warming, disease (PART II)
Every year, between 20 and 30 tigers are poached. Illegal logging is reducing the tigers' habitat, and illegal hunting is reducing its food supply. However, these are not the only threats to wild tiger survival -- other problems are cropping up and taking a toll on the iconic big cat.
Next big idea in forest conservation? DNA fingerprinting trees to stem illegal logging
As a professor at Texas Tech, Dr. Chuck Cannon has been, among other things, working to create a system of DNA fingerprinting for tropical trees to undercut the global illegal logging trade. 'If we just enforced existing laws and management policies, things would be pretty good, but unfortunately, that is where things fall apart in many tropical countries,' Cannon said.
Logging of Russian Far East damaging tiger habitat, few intact forests protected (Part I)
The destruction of Russian forests to supply timber to international markets is becoming one of the biggest threats to the world’s largest cat, the Siberian tiger. Russia has more forests than any other country, with more than half of the world’s coniferous forests. However, worldwide demand for high quality timber, along with weak regulations, has led to widespread logging of Russia’s trees.
20 percent of Africa's elephants killed in three years
Around 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers for their ivory on the African continent in just three years, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Between 2010 and 2012 an average of 6.8 percent of the elephant population was killed annually, equaling just over 20 percent of the continent's population in that time.
Demand for shark fin plunging
Shark fin demand has dropped precipitously in China in just a few years, according to a new report by WildAid. Shark fin traders in Guangzhou—the current informal capital of the shark fin trade—say their sales have fallen by 82 percent in just two years, according to WildAid.
China failing to take effective action against timber smugglers
Voluntary guidelines established by the Chinese government won't be enough to curb rampant timber smuggling by Chinese companies, putting 'responsible' actors at risk of having their reputations tarnished, argues a new campaign by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
The threat of traditional medicine: China's boom may mean doom for turtles
Despite a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a causative link between turtle consumption and medicinal benefits, many people in China believe they can be used to cure disease and maintain health. Because of this, turtles have been highly sought after for more than 3,000 years. However, in recent years, China’s economy has changed in a way that has become increasingly threatening to the country’s wild turtle populations.
Want to save Africa's elephants? Close all ivory markets
The only way to save the long-suffering elephants of Africa is to close every ivory market on the planet and destroy all ivory stockpiles, according to a bold new essay in Conservation Biology. Written by Elizabeth Bennett, the Vice President for Species Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the paper is likely to prove controversial.
Over a million pangolins slaughtered in the last decade
One of the world's most bizarre animal groups is now at risk of complete eradication, according to an update of the IUCN Red List. Pangolins, which look and behave similarly to (scaly) anteaters yet are unrelated, are being illegally consumed out of existence due to a thriving trade in East Asia.
Germany tops energy efficiency rating while U.S. remains stuck near the bottom
Two years after the first energy efficiency ranking report put out by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and the U.S. still lags widely behind most of the world's other large economies. In the second report, the U.S. came in at number 13 out of 16 nations—even beaten by new-comer to the report, India—while Germany took the top spot.
Price of ivory triples in China
In the last four years the price of ivory in China has tripled, according to new research from Save the Elephants. The news has worrying implications for governments and conservationists struggling to save elephants in Africa amidst a poaching epidemic, which has seen tens-of-thousands of elephants butchered for their tusks across the continent annually
No restrictions: Japan's demand for illegal wood driving rampant deforestation in Siberia
Illegal logging is taking a huge toll on forests around the world. In response, many countries have banned the import of timber whose legal harvest cannot be verified. However, Japan has made no strides to reduce its import of illegal timber. Instead, it is knowingly importing mass quantities of wood sourced from vulnerable forests in Siberia, according to a recent report.
Horror movie bugs: new wasp species builds nest with the bodies of dead ants
If ants made horror movies this is probably what it would look like: mounds of murdered ants sealed up in a cell. The villain of the piece—at least from the perspective of the ants—is a new species of spider wasp, which scientists have aptly dubbed the bone-house wasp (Deuteragenia ossarium) in a paper released today in PLOS ONE.
Chinese fishermen get the ultimate phone video: a swimming tiger
Two Chinese fishermen got the catch of their lives...on mobile phone this week. While fishing in the Ussuri River, which acts as a border between Russia and China, the fishermen were approached by a swimming Siberian tiger. These tigers, also known as Amur tigers, are down to around 350-500 animals.
Turning point? U.S. and China announce major actions on global warming
Could 2014 be a turning point for efforts to slash global greenhouse gas emissions? Maybe: in less than 24 hours the world's two largest emitters of carbon dioxide announced plans to finally rein-in the gas most responsible for global warming.
Chinese officials seize nearly a thousand dead pangolins
In one of the biggest pangolin trafficking cases yet recorded in China, officials confiscated 956 animals stuffed into 189 coolers this month. The dead pangolins were being carried overland in a truck, with the total haul weighing four tonnes. The traffickers were caught at the border of Guangdong Province. If convicted, they face up to ten years in jail.
Dams be damned: study finds large dams are too expensive
Hydroelectric power, supplied mostly from dams, provides approximately 20 percent of the world's electricity, an amount of energy equivalent to 3.6 billion barrels of oil. However, a recent study by researchers at Oxford University has found that large dams cost so much money and take so long to build that they may not be economically viable.
Hong Kong begins destroying 131,000 pounds of elephant ivory
Hong Kong has begun destroying its 29.6-metric-ton stockpile of confiscated ivory. On Thursday authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city crushed and incinerated a ton of seized ivory in an action they hope will send a message to poachers and traffickers.
Chinese poachers caught with 555 marine turtles, most dead (PHOTOS)
On Friday, eleven Chinese fishermen were caught by Filipino police with 555 marine turtles, 378 of which were dead. Officials in the Philippines have since released the 177 living turtles. But the incident has sparked an international standoff between the Philippines and China as the Chinese nationals were arrested in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Chinese luxury furniture linked to murder, near extinction
Intricately carved, meticulously designed, and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars: this is "hongmu," or Chinese luxury furniture reflecting the elite styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties. But while the red-colored furniture may be aesthetically beautiful, it comes with a blood price.