Report on a Visit to China - Freek Venter, SANParks - December 2013

I had the privilege to attend a conference called the Changbai Mountain International Eco-Forum,held from 15-19 September 2013 in Changbai Mountain National Nature Reserve(CMNNR), China. The CMNNRis approximately 1600km northeast of Beijing, close to the boundary between China and North Korea. I was nominated by the Kruger to Canyons(K2C)Biosphere Reserve to attend, howevermy talkcovered both the KNP and K2C. therewere two South Africans at the conference as Mr ThivhulawiNethonondarepresented the Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa.
The conference was attended by roughly 200 delegates whoincluded representatives from Chinese Government Departments, the Changbai Mountain Administrative Committee, Changbai Mountain National Reserve Management Bureau, and Changbai Mountain Management Committee as well as UNESCO Beijing Office Man and the Biosphere (MAB)Programs, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), etc. Many managers of protected areas (PAs) from all over the worldattended the conference. 
The conference was jointly organized by the Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau, the Provincial Forestry Department, the Provincial Foreign Affairs Office, the Changchun Branch of Chinese Academy of SciencesandChangbai Mountain Administrative Committee. It was funded by 
the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the State Forestry Administration, theChinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the UNESCO Office in Beijing, the Chinese National Committee for MAB, and the People's Government of Jilin Province.

The Venue: Changbai Mountain National Nature Reserve
The conference was held in the 5-Star King Eastern Gem Hotel, Chibei Area of Changbai Mountain Protection Development Zone, on the edge of the CMNNR. This zone is in itself a bone of contention in the province, as the “twin topics of Protection and Development have given rise to an acrimonious debate”. 
The CMNNR is located in the Jilin Province, northeastern China. The reserve was established in 1960, joined the UNESCO MAB Reserves Network in 1980, assessed as an "A-Grade Protected Area of Global Importance" in 1992 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and ranked as one of the most important mountain monitoring areas by UNESCO MAB in 2003. Changbai Mountain is the source of the three big rivers in Northeast China, namely the Songhua, Tumen and Yalu riversand is therefore an important natural resource provider. The mountain has one of the highest species richness and best conserved biodiversity amongst areas along the same latitude in the world. It represents the typical natural complex of the northern half of the Eurasian Continentand is an important mountain-forest ecosystem. The name of the reserve means "Ever-White Mountain” due to it being covered by snow for most of the year. 
Figure 1: The dormant volcano crater on top of the Changbai Mountainduring Spring.Photo credit -photographic exhibition, Fairview Landscape.

CMNNR is China's largest nature reserve at 210,000 ha. It is a famous tourist attraction, especially the dormant volcano with its beautiful oval lake (the Lake of Heaven) which formed inside the crater of the volcano. The border betweenChina and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) goes throughin the middle of the lake. The lake is about 13km in circumference and 200-300mdeep. There are 16 named mountain peaks on the rim of the volcano, with the highest peak, White Cloud Peak, some 2,744m above sea-level. Evergreen tree species like Korean pine and Japanese yew share the slopes with Mongolian oak, dwarf birch and other deciduous trees.
An interesting and clear change in vegetation and animal life occurs with increasing altitudes. From the foot of the mountain to 1,000m it consists of mixed coniferous and broad-leaved woodland. From 1,000m to 1,800m the vegetation is characterized mainly by coniferous woodland. Above 2,000mAlpine Tundra occurs, and generally only lichenssurvive. Within thereserve more than 300 medicinal plantspeciesoccur. The most important of these are the winter daphne and wild ginseng.Predators such as Siberian tigers, leopards, lynx, and brown bears occur, and they prey on the shy deer, gorals, wild pigs, otters and dozens of other mammal species. Rare, endangered birds like hazel grouse, black storks, mandarin ducks and oriental storks occur in the reserve.
There is a well-developed tourism infrastructure, including roads, public transport, hiking trails and information centresin place. Approximately 2 million people visit the park annually.
Figure 2: The information centre at the entrance to the Changbai Mountain Reserve

Figure 3: Drop-off zone near the crater. No private vehicles are allowed and all visitors are transported by minibus along a long,winding road up the mountain.

Figure 4: There are many beautiful waterfalls as the mountain is one of the most important sources of water for the region.

Creation of the World Protected Area Alliance
The conference kicked off with a workshop to discuss the feasibility of establishing a new 
organization, i.e. the World Protected Area Alliance (WPAA). Overall, the feeling of delegates was thattheWPAA could promote better communication among managers of PAs, instill some new energy in protection circles and assist to improve management levels of PAs throughout the world.Some concerns, however, are thattheWPAA may overlap withtheWorld Commission of Protected Areas(WCPA)/IUCN) and that it may struggle to find funding to operate properly. It would also be a daunting task for the WPAA to influence managers of over 200,000 PAs in the world.  It was recognizedthat the relationship with the WCPA needsto be very clear from the start. It was generally anticipated thattheWPAA would be a professional association, whereas the WCPA would be more of an expert commission.
Theoccasion was used for the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Chinese National Committee for MAB and the Russian National Committee for MAB. 

Changbai Mountain International Ecological Forum
The conference itself was held over two days with the theme “Strengthen Natural Conservation, Inherit Ecological Civilization”. It covered a wide spectrum of topics, mostly dealing with specific issues related to the PA or organization represented by the presenter. During the opening ceremony a strong political contingent attended and several presenters reflected a growing conservation ethic in the Jilin province, but also throughout China.This was demonstrated by the signing of a cooperation agreement between Changbai Mountain National Nature ReserveandUS Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Russian Sikhote-Alin State Nature Biosphere Reserve respectively. 
There were very interesting talks about tiger, Amur leopard, fire, ecosystem goods and services, human threatsto ecosystems, medicinal plants (ginseng grows naturally in this area), conservation and ecology of many MAB related PAs, to name but a few. Talks covered Alaska, Canada, the Pacific Islands, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Africa, several on Russia and many onChina. Many of the talks were in Chinese with interpreterstranslating toEnglish and Russian. My presentation focused on management of Kruger with specific emphasis on buffer areas such as GLTP/GLTFCA, but specifically the K2C Biosphere Reserveand all the current projects related to this area(i.e. GEF5, RESILIM, DEA Wildlife Economy and Lowveld Protected Area Managers Forum).
One of the presentations I personally found very informative was by Dr. Brian MacSharry, Senior Program Officer of Protected Areas Information Coordinator of UNEP-WCMC. In his talk “PA conservation and management –a global perspective”, he summarized the global situation regarding conservation and PAs, emphasizing the following(seealso the Protected Planet 2012 reportwhich containsmost of the information):
  • There arecurrently 177,547 nationally protected areas around the world. They represent 12.7 % of the terrestrial and inland water areas, while the target for 2020 is 17%;
  • Only 1.6% of the global ocean area is currently protected (target 10% by 2020). Most marine protection (7.2%) is concentrated along near-coastal areas (0-22 km from land), leaving the wide open oceans exposed toabuse; 
  • Where the global PA network does not provide protection for specific biodiversity in specific important areas, “Key Biodiversity Areas” have beenidentified and specific plans are put in place to improve protection in these areas, anticipating full national protection in the future. Examples are sites identified as Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZEs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs). There are approximately 600 AZEs and 11,000 IBAs worldwide, of which 22% and 28% respectively are fully protected in PAs;
  • Although most of the world’s large mammals are nowadays found in PAs, approximately 11,600species of mammals, birds, turtles and amphibians arenot found in any protected area, emphasizing the importance of protection in communal, farming and rural areas;
  • Several studies found significant declines (up to 60%) in large mammal populations since the1970’s in African PAs. However, further analysis of the data shows steep declines in West and East African parks, but stable and even growing numbers in southern African parks(in KNP the biomass of large mammals have doubled in the past decade);
  • Management effectiveness of PAs is still a reason for concern. A 2010 global study showed that only 24% of PAs have sound management, with 27% experiencing major deficiencies in management, and 13% with completely inadequate management;
  • Finally, the role of governments in the global protected area network has declined from 95.8% in 1990 to 76.9% in 2010. Over the same period Indigenous People’s Territories and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) haveincreased from 3.8% to 9.3%, and that of co-managed areas from 0.1% to 13.5%. This is indicative of the increasing role communities are playing to conserve our planet’s biodiversity.

Field trips
There were organized field tripsup Changbai Mountain to the Crater Lake, a beautiful area with excellent access(Figures 1-4). Before going to Changbai Mountain I also visited the Red Beach, a wetland area near Panjin (approximately 200km from Beijing). From Panjin my wife and I thentravellednortheast for approximately 1,600km by trainto Changbai Mountain. Herewith a summary of myexperiencesen route:
  • China is in a very steep growing and developing phase. The giant that has been sleeping for millennia out of sight of the rest of the world is waking up and will soon be a dominant factor in the world. Eachand every town or city is characterized by massive newdevelopments. Infrastructure such as roads, hotels, malls andaccommodation flats is being constructed at a high rate and the name of the game is high densitieson small areasto provide for the massive Chinese population(Figure 7 & 8);
  • The resources necessary to provide for this development must have an immense impact on the environment. Most government buildings and hotels I visited were tiled with granite blocks. Even sidewalks are built with granite blocksin some areas;
  • Public transport is of a good quality and generally on time, but communication is often non-existent due to language barriers. An App that can be offloaded on one’s cell phone called “Translate” was often a saving graceas it can translate English to Mandarin writing and can even verbally pronounce the translation;
  • Train stations and bus terminuses are usually overcrowded and it is important to be on time or early. One benefit of being an African is that even in huge crowds one is still head and shoulders above the general public and can maintain a view!;
  • Safety and security is generally not an issueandviolent crimes occurseldom. The people are generally very friendlyand helpful.Chinese people are mostlycommitted, hardworkingand loyal to their country and nationality.

Figure 5: A quiet day at the new tourism facilities constructed at the Red Beach to cater for the growing awareness and interest of Chinese people in conservation matters. 

Figure 6: In rural china every possible squaremeter of land is utilized for food production to be able to feed so many mouths.In this picture it is mainly mealiesand rice.

Figure 7: New developments such as these accommodation flats are being constructed at a massive scale and arevisible in almost every city or town in China.

Figure 8: New developments in the form of accommodation flats to provide accommodation for the large population of China. Note the large notice boards/posters at the foot of the building and the trees planted and supported by struts to create a buffer with the railway line.

What I have learnt
The following is a summary of lessons learnt on this trip:
  • Parks Canadahasa similar vision as SANParks, i.e. “Connecting hearts and minds to the essence of Canada”. However, they put a lot of emphasis on doing it on the terms of the people they want to connect to, which needs extensive and continuous consultation, obviously within the restrictions of the laws. The net result of this kind of engagement with their constituency is very strong buy-inand support, especially as far as zoning and creation of amenities areconcerned. They attempt not to decide for the people but allow space for themto provide firm directions regarding their needs. 
  • One of the keynote speakersfrom the University of Kent, UK, Dr John MacKinnon, summarised his experience of when conservation fails as follows:
    • Failure to communicate the real value of ecosystem goods and services to politicians and the broader public;
    • Failure to invest in taxonomy;
    • Failure to invest in adequate training;
    • Failure to utilise indigenous knowledge;
    • Over reliance on logical frameworks;
    • Too many meetings, plans and reports.

Looking at this from a positive perspective gives one a feeling of what one needs to focus on.
  • As with developments in China, conservation is also on a steep upwards curve. There aremore than 6000 PAsof many kinds, which cover nearly 20% of the land surface. The main types of PAs summarized in the table below. Data is fromWeihua QIN( of the Ministry ofEnvironmental Protection of Chinaand 

Type of PA
Size (km2)
Ratio to land area
Nature reserves
National parks
Forest parks
Wetland parks
National water parks


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