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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:
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.
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.