In Chinese culture, the number five is generally held to be a lucky number. That’s due in large part to the Wu Xing, or Five Elements: water, wood, metal, earth and fire.
It’s fitting, then, that when we took stock of what the Conservancy accomplished here in China throughout the course of 2011, we were especially proud of five landmark conservation accomplishments. And, as it turns out, we batted for the elemental cycle.
In an unprecedented effort that saw the largest power station in the world alter its practices for ecological purposes, the Conservancy worked with the Three Gorges Dam to restore declining downstream carp populations. By helping to guide the release of excess water, the Conservancy and partners sought to mimic natural river cycles that trigger breeding in local carp species, which have experienced devastating decreases in the last few decades. Early returns suggest that the water release resulted in higher levels of carp spawning, offering a bit of good news along a stretch of the Yangtze in bad need of it.
Well, there’s about to be much more of it: the Conservancy is leading Sichuan’s largest forest carbon project which will restore more than 40 square kilometers of forest in the province’s southwestern Liangshan region. In 2011 alone, we helped plant 1.2 million trees, and over the next four years we’ll plant a total of 10 million. These reforestation efforts will create jobs for local people, deliver measurable climate change results through accredited carbon credit programs and protect endangered wildlife, including species like the giant panda.
Speaking of pandas, small metal boxes containing motion-sensor cameras captured incredible images of wild animals in Sichuan Province. And these photos aren’t just revealing the region’s unrivaled richness in wildlife but are also providing invaluable resources for increasing our understanding of the natural world. Located on a parcel of land that will soon become one of China’s first forays into private land conservation, the Conservancy candid cameras photographed over 30 species of birds and mammals, including golden monkeys, takins, leopard cats, golden pheasants and pandas. One of the pandas was even caught eating meat, providing landmark visual evidence of the panda’s omnivorous appetite.
In even more panda news, the Conservancy and partners developed a new methodology that will allow bamboo reforestation to be classified as a clean development mechanism (CDM) activity. This news comes hot on the heels of China’s first domestic voluntary carbon market called the Panda Standard, and will for the first time allow conservationists to quantify carbon sequestration in bamboo sinks, which are currently ineligible in other carbon accounting methodologies. Bamboo is one of China’s most widely grown and harvested plants, meaning that the Panda Standard could play a huge role in restoring forested landscapes and accelerating China’s carbon economy.
And we go out with a bang. When the Conservancy celebrated its 60th anniversary in Washington, DC earlier this year, Board of Directors member Jack Ma made an explosive announcement. Ma, one of China’s leading entrepreneurs, announced the China Global Conservation Fund, a new project that will significantly expand the Conservancy’s global reach. The fund is being established by a group of philanthropic Chinese to channel millions of dollars toward high-impact conservation projects around the world. The first project to receive support from the fund will be an initiative to save Kenya’s critically endangered hirola antelope.
And now, as we leave the Year of the Rabbit, these five projects leave us well positioned to expand on our success and enjoy an even more prosperous Year of the Dragon. Good luck and good fortune in 2012.
(Images: Panda eating meat captured by motion sensor cameras stationed on the Motianling County Land Trust Reserve in northern Sichuan. Image credit: TNC. Harvesting bamboo for basket production in Yunnan Province, China. © Ami Vitale.)