China announces its first national parks

(CNN) – China has just unveiled its first group of national parks ever, all of which focus on the conservation of specific animals native to the country — including, well, pandas.

In total, the protected land area from the parks covers a total of 230,000 square kilometers (88,800 square kilometers), from the far north of Tibet to the southern holiday island of Hainan.

China has been examining the establishment of an institutional system for the protection of natural ecosystems since founding its first nature reserve in 1956.

There are now more than 10,000 of these reserves, which have played important roles in protecting biodiversity.

However, the Chinese authorities acknowledged that problems had arisen in the management of these nature reserves – namely that different local branches responsible for the same sites would have unclear boundaries and responsibilities.

The creation of the National Park System, which organizes all these places under one umbrella, was the solution.

This flight view shows Sanjiangyuan.

This flight view shows Sanjiangyuan.

Zhang Long / Xinhua / Getty Images

So, where will these parks be, and how accessible will they be to visitors?

Giant Panda National Park, which is sure to be a hit with swells of tourists who come every year to see some of the world’s cutest vulnerable animals, was among those announced this week.

According to an official press release, this park covers “three Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu and crosses the mountains Minshan, Qionglai, Daxiangling and Qinling.” The region is the panda’s natural habitat, and more than 75 percent of the animals’ wild population lives here.

At the same time, the junction between Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces will be home to northeastern China Tiger and Leopard National Park, which seek to protect the habitats of these two species. It is the only area in China where both the wild Siberian tiger and the Siberian leopard settle.

Hainan Island is home to China’s best-preserved tropical rainforest. It is also the only place in the world where the Hainan black-crested gibbon can be found. Now the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park will protect gibbons and their environment.

Some of the parks are more focused on more animals than one specific species. One of them is Wuyishan National Park, which will serve as a gene bank for a variety of rare and endangered species. It is located in Fujian Province and will merge several existing nature reserves – Fujian Wuyi Mountain National Nature Reserve, Wuyi Mountain National Scenic Area and Upper Jiuqu River Protection Zone – into a park under the same management.

Similarly, Sanjiangyuan National Park on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will be an important center for biodiversity, especially as the hinterland faces challenges from climate change. This region is the source of three of China’s most important rivers – the Yellow River, the Lancang River and the Yangtze River.

A wild giant panda in the Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve in northwest China's Gansu province, which will soon be part of the Giant Panda National Park.

A wild giant panda in the Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve in northwest China’s Gansu province, which will soon be part of the Giant Panda National Park.

Xinhua / Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve / Getty Images

In addition, these national parks have provided protection for the people who already live in the areas.

According to the Chinese National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Sanjiangyuan National Park has employed 17,200 ramparts to be “organic managers”, or rangers, in the park. Each will have a guaranteed annual income of 20,000 yuan ($ 31,000) per year, providing a more stable means of subsistence.

Meanwhile in northeastern China Tiger and Leopard National Park, officials have embarked on “livelihood projects” such as village building, livestock farming and alternative agricultural training.

There will be benefits for park visitors as well. Sanjianyuan already has some tourist programs in place, and it will be a way for foreign tourists to experience the expansive Tibetan landscape. Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park develops crowd control measures and timetables to prevent overcrowding and give guests a chance to truly experience nature.

Photo by Wang Jianwei / Xinhua via Getty Images

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