All images are the property of Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com, copyright 2006.
Contact me regarding use and reproduction.
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:
Growing need for deforestation-free rubber as tire demand destroys native forests
Surging demand for natural rubber is decimating some of the world's most endangered forests, putting wildlife and critical ecosystem services at risk, warn scientists writing in the journal Conservation Letters. Reviewing a large body of published research, Eleanor Warren-Thomas of the University of East Anglia and colleagues detail the crop's expansion across across Southeast Asia in recent decades.
Photo Essay: Geopolitical pawns, the fishermen of Lý Sơn, Vietnam
'When they came, what could we do?' 46-year-old fisherman Nguyên Phú asks, crouching down like a frog with his hands above his head. 'We just put our hands up like this, and said, 'Don't shoot! Don't shoot!'' Their caution is warranted. If they venture too deeply into Vietnam's claimed territorial waters, a Chinese patrol boat will swoop down on them.
Scientists find new monkey with unique penis
Researchers were in for a surprise when they viewed footage from a remote and little-explored area of southeastern Tibet. Among the more than 700 photos of macaques, they spotted several with physical characteristics that hadn't been documented before; namely, genitals that were shaped and colored differently than other known macaques in the region. The scientists say these differences may make these macaques a new species.
Could inland aquaculture help save the oceans and feed the world?
Mark Kwok has always loved the ocean. An avid diver and spear fisherman, he has travelled the planet in search of exotic fish and undersea adventure. Born into a wealthy Hong Kong family, he had the freedom to explore the world’s oceans. But in the last decade or so, he hasn’t been content just looking at fish. He’s been growing them. In a squat, unassuming cluster of buildings in an industrial suburb north of Hong Kong, Kwok is experimenting with a potentially revolutionary technology.
Pollution from East Asia affecting air quality in Borneo's rainforests
A study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics finds that industrial activities in East Asia are polluting the air in the rainforests of Borneo and that, once there, the pollutants could be traveling into the upper atmosphere and impacting Earth’s ozone layer.
Chinese-backed smelter plan causes concern among Sulawesi fishermen
As a pair of Chinese-owned miners companies proceed with plans to construct nickel smelters in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province, in line with a national edict to increase in-country mineral processing capacity, locals fear the factories will only intensify environmental degradation from the same firms' mining operations and harm fishing communities that rely on the area.
Low crop prices means time is ripe for new forest protection programs
Today, conservation compliance is a U.S. policy between governments and farmers that reward farmers with federal subsidies for good conservation practices on designated vulnerable lands. But economist Clayton Ogg believes it could now be used to save forests in countries like Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia. "The main drivers for deforestation in recent years are high crop prices. However, as crop prices fall to more normal levels, farmers depend very heavily on government subsidies, and the subsidies become the major driver for deforestation," Ogg told mongabay.com.
Elephant poaching rate unchanged – and still devastating
New figures show essentially no change in the number of elephants killed in Africa by poachers last year, despite a high-profile meeting on the crisis which was attended by 46 countries and a number of commitments. Data from CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) estimated that around 20,000 elephants were killed in 2014, the same as in 2013.
Can voluntary sustainability standards survive in emerging markets?
Last month, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) published a new edition of its The World in 2050 report. Confirming the findings of previous studies, the report describes a shift in economic power from the global north to the south. PwC projects that the US' and EU's share of world GDP will face a steady decline from around 33 percent in 2014 to about 25 percent by 2050. At the same time, emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey (the so-called E7 countries) are gaining in importance as both producers and consumers in the global economy.
Endangered forests shrink as demand for soy rises
As battles over labeling genetically modified foods or displaying calorific breakdowns per serving rage on, it appears that a possibly more significant battle is in its infancy - where do all the ingredients on the package actually come from?
Giant panda population rises by nearly 17 percent
One of the most iconic animals on the planet got good news this week. The world's giant panda population has risen by 268 individuals over the last decade, hitting a total of 1,864 animals, according to China's fourth decadal survey. This represents a total rise of 16.8 percent.
China bans carved ivory imports
China has established a one-year ban on imports of carved African elephant ivory.
Photos: Amur leopard population hits at least 65
Most of the world's big predators are in decline, but there are some happy stories out there. This week, WWF announced that the Amur leopard population has grown to a total of 65-69 cats. This represents a more than doubling of the population in eight years. Still, the Critically Endangered subspecies remains perilously close to extinction.
China tries out logging ban in northeastern province
China's Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia to its north and east, contains 18.5 million hectares of state forest - more natural forest than any other province in the country. However, since the mid-twentieth century, Heilongjiang has had over 600 million cubic meters of timber extracted from its woodlands. Now, China is trying out a complete ban on commercial logging in the province's state-owned forests.
China’s recent forest tenure reforms threaten panda habitat
Since the 1950s, plantations and second-growth forests in China have been locally managed by village communities as collective forests, which today account for 58 percent of China's forestland. Many of these collective forests lie within mountainous rural areas, some of which are also home to the 1,600 or so wild giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) that survive today.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2014
In what was widely seen as a possible breakthrough in the battle to coordinate some kind of response to global warming, China and the U.S. announced joint actions this year. On November 12th, the world's two most powerful countries surprised pretty much everyone by announcing that they would work together to tackle the crisis.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2014
In 2014, the unimaginable happened: companies representing the majority of palm oil production and trade agreed to stop cutting down rainforests and draining peatlands for new oil palm plantations. After years of intense campaigning by environmentalists and dire warnings from scientists, nearly two dozen major producers, traders, and buyers established zero deforestation policies.
Saving the world's rarest primate: can it be done?
Endemic to China’s southernmost province of Hainan, only around 30 Hainan gibbons survive today. Rapid island-wide deforestation and consequential loss of habitat, uncontrolled hunting, and failed captive breeding attempts have pushed this ape towards the precipice of becoming the first primate species to go extinct in the modern world. Will a multi-stakeholder conservation strategy be able to save it?
Gibbon species pushed towards extinction as island loses its trees
Only about 30 Hainan gibbons currently inhabit our world and all of them are confined to the 2,100-hectare Bawangling National Nature Reserve on the western part of Hainan Island. Endemic to this island, these gibbons primarily inhabited the lowland broadleaf and semi-deciduous monsoon forests that today are almost entirely deforested.
New film highlights local resistance to Nicaragua's canal
This fall, filmmakers Tom Miller and Nuin-Tara Key with Pretty Good Productions found themselves in Nicaragua where they heard about a stunning project: the Gran Canal. Approved last year, the canal is meant to compete with the Panama Canal to the south. Built by a Chinese company, it will cut through 278 kilometers, destroying forests and driving through the largest freshwater body in Central America.
Indigenous leader murdered before he could attend Climate Summit
Days before José Isidro Tendetza Antún was supposed to travel to the UN Climate Summit in Lima to publicly file a complaint against a massive mining operation, he went missing. Now, the Guardian reports that the body of the Shuar indigenous leader has been found, bound and buried in an unmarked grave on the banks of the Zamora River.
Chinese logging company takes over Guyana's forests
Foreign companies investing in Guyana’s substantial forests are supposed to adhere to national laws and international agreements. But civil society leaders and activists inside and outside the South American country are crying foul, saying foreign corporations and government officials are paying lip service to the accords while quietly building a timber-harvesting empire in the country with few benefits for the average Guyanese.
Progress being made in curbing illegal timber imports
Five major timber importers are making progress in cutting contraband wood from their markets, argues a series of reports published by Chatham House.
Saving Myanmar’s red pandas by protecting land, educating people
Red pandas, bear-like arboreal mammals with red, furry tails, are poached mainly for their fur. Found primarily at higher elevation forests of the eastern Himalayas, these pandas spend most of their time in trees, and feed mainly on bamboo. But much of their forest habitat has been destroyed due to illegal logging.
New blood record: 1,020 rhinos killed in South Africa
South Africa has surpassed last year's grisly record for slaughtered rhinos—1,004—more than a month before the year ends. In an announcement on November 20th, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs said that 1,020 rhinos had been killed to date.
Scientists capture first-ever footage of wild red pandas in Myanmar (VIDEO)
This year, a team of scientists in Myanmar (also called Burma), caught a pair of reclusive red pandas on camera, for the first time ever. The bushy tailed pandas were climbing up a rocky pile of rubble left behind in the region by Chinese loggers. For the scientists, the footage was bitter-sweet.
Prelude to Paris: China and U.S. surprise world with joint climate deal
In what will likely have major ramifications for a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015, China and the U.S. surprised everyone today by announcing a joint climate deal. At a press conference in Beijing, China President, Xi Jingping, and U.S. President, Barack Obama, outlined climate actions for both juggernauts up to 2030.
Flying under the radar in Central Africa, Chinese companies may be wreaking environmental havoc
Tchimpounga, chimpanzees, and extractive industries in the Republic of Congo. 'Tchimpounga is not just a sanctuary,' shouted Rebeca Atencia above the din of the outboard motor, as she pointed to our progress up the Kouilou River on her tablet, donated by Google, which included access to high-resolution satellite maps. The GPS tracking showed us as a small, blue diamond moving slowly up the murky river.
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.