Why is Sanjiangyuan region so important?
The Sanjiangyuan (literally three rivers’ headwaters) region is located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. As the name itself suggests, it is where the three headwaters of Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow Rivers emerge. In 2000, the Sanjianguan National Nature Reserve was established, and it is the second largest nature reserve in the world (152,300 km2). Around 0.3 million Tibetans, who are traditionally pastoralists, live in this region. There are also about 600 million people live alone the downstream of the three rivers. Therefore the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in Sanjiangyuan is vital for livelihoods of all those people.
(to explore more: Plateau Perspectives;
Wikipedia page of Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve)
Apart from the ecosystem services it provides, the Sanjiangyuan region also has one of the highest concentration of biodiversity among the high altitude regions in the world. Also, many types of alpine flora and fauna are unique to this region (See Shen & Tan 2012; Shi et al. 2012), such as Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), Glover’s pika (Ochotona gloveri), Likiang pitviper (Gloydius monticola) and so on. Hence the irreplaceability of local ecosystems, species and genetic diversity in Sanjiangyuan makes the conservation of biodiversity in this region even more important.
Threats to local environment
However, in the past several decades, there was a rapid environmental degradation in Sanjiangyuan region, and it could be a result of a combination of anthropogenic activities (such as fencing the pastures according to national natural resources governance policies, over-grazing, expanding population, waste disposal, poaching, illegal mining and so on) and impacts of climate change. Also, shortage in funding from local government impeded the official conservation work of the Sanjianguan National Nature Reserve.
Moving towards co-management
As a result, there have been more voices asking for co-management of the reserve in recent years. Because of the uniqueness and fragility of the ecosystems in Sanjianguan region, and also due to the ineffectiveness of management conducted by governmental organisations, more and more researchers and local Tibetans believe that the communities should participate more in the biodiversity conservation work in Sanjiangyuan, and more traditional knowledge about environmental protection should be recognised and incorporated into conservation practice.
In 2007, Shanshui Conservation Centre, a local environmental NGO, started a project with the help of Conservation International, in order to promote traditional environmental knowledge and practices. The projects aims to link local Tibetan communities with scientific community from outside Sanjiangyuan, and with mainstream Chinese society by organising conferences, meetings, tours, movie exhibitions, to bring together ecologists, anthropologists, monks, local herders, university students and so on, and build channels for communication. The Shanshui Conservation Centre also connected with higher-level policy makers through personal relationships. In the end, the Sanjianguan National Nature Reserve turned over the management and conservation works of some areas of the reserve to local Tibetan communities, under an agreement, in which conservation plans and monitoring indicators were clearly specified.
Although, from experiences of co-management schemes around the world, there is still a long way to go for the local communities to achieve fully successful conservation actions, this is already a good start. Let’s wish them good luck on the journey of conserving their homeland!
(check this report for information of other community-based conservation works)
posted by u4780526
Foggin, M 2012, ‘Pastoralists and wildlife conservation in western China: collaborative management within protected areas on the Tibetan Plateau’, Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice, vol. 2, no. 17, viewed 21 May 2014.
Snowland Great Rivers Environmental Protection Association 2005, Green community network – public participation of ecological environmental protection action plan, Snowland Great Rivers Environmental Protection Association, viewed 03 June 2013, (in Chinese).
Shen, X & Tan, J 2012 ‘Ecological conservation, cultural preservation, and a bridge between: the journey of Shanshui Conservation Center in the Sanjiangyuan region, Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China’, Ecology and Society, viewed 21 May 2014.
Shi, Y, Baumann, F, Ma, Y, Song, C, Kuhn, P, Scholten, T & He, JS 2012, ‘Organic and inorganic carbon in the topsoil of the Mongolian and Tibetan grasslands: pattern, control and implications’, Biogeosciences, vol. 9, pp. 2287-2299.