Ecotourism as an alternative to logging in panda habitat
The hope is that the tourism industry will help conserve the forests here and generate income in one of the country's poorest areas. With the implementation of its Natural Forest Protection Programme (NFPP), commercial logging was banned in most of China in 1998. Following this ban, tourism began to be the main income source for local communities in areas of northern Sichuan province, including the Wanglang area, which is thought to have one of the highest giant panda population densities in Sichuan.
Although many conservationists agree that when ecotourism is well-managed it is less damaging to forests than activities like logging, it can have negative effects. Tourism in the Wanglang area is increasing rapidly, from a total of 1,000 tourists visiting the area in 1997 to 20,000 tourists in 2002.
To help promote responsible travel to Wanglang and its surrounding areas, one component of WWF’s ‘Panda Conservation in the Minshan Landscape’ project is working to improve tourism activities in the region so that the industry’s impact does not become a negative one.
Wanglang Nature Reserve, in northern Sichuan, is a protected area that covers 320km2 and encloses five different ecosystems, from rocky 5000m-high snow-covered mountain peaks to alpine old-growth forest. It shelters a multitude of rare and endangered species, including black bears, brown bears, red pandas, takin, musk deer, golden monkeys, and rare varieties of pheasants. Plants, from rare orchid species to valuable medicinal herbs, grow in the thickness. But it is most well-known as the home of 32 wild giant pandas.
Just outside the reserve, the Baima, a small minority group that practices an animistic form of religion, continue to live a traditional way of life. The Baima, no longer earning their income from logging, are now pinning their hopes on tourism as a means of income.
“Ecotourism is responsible tourism. Its primary purpose is to protect the original natural and cultural uniqueness of a place. Based on local needs, it emphasizes responsible business behavior, whereby business activities benefit the local people and help to protect the natural environment,” said Mr Fan Longqing, manager of WWF’s ‘Panda Conservation in the Minshan Landscape’ project. “Tour guides play an important role in regulating people’s behavior and act as advisors on the natural environment.”
To help tour guides recognize the importance of nature and culture conservation and the positive role they can play in guiding local tourism operators and visitors, WWF, together with the Mianyang Tourism Bureau, recently organized an ecotourism workshop in Mianyang city. Over 30 tour guides and their managers participated in the workshop. At the workshop, participants gained a clearer understanding of the concept of ecotourism and the role they play in guiding visitors’ behavior so that it is consistent with conservation goals.
In addition, through presentations by Wanglang Nature Reserve rangers, participants also learned more about the wildlife of Wanglang Nature Reserve, as well as the customs and traditions of the Baima people. “I never realized my work was so closely related with conservation work. As a nature lover, I am happy to realize that I can play a role in promoting conservation,” said one tour guide participating in the workshop. “This workshop made me realize how important my work is.”
WWF also recently held an ecotourism training workshop for the local Baima community in which 35 participants took part. At the workshop, participants and Wanglang Nature Reserve managers discussed issues and challenges facing local tourism, as well as new ideas for addressing these issues.
Participants also learned more about the concepts of ecotourism, as well as China’s laws and regulations pertaining to wildlife protection.The workshop was followed up by a training seminar on how to improve tourism-related activities, including horse treks and cultural performances, and how to make them more eco-friendly. As a result, new regulations were laid out and agreed upon by WWF, nature reserve managers, and local Baima people.
For further information:
Li NingCommunications Coordinator, Species Programme, WWF China Tel: +86 1369 116 7986
WWF would like to thank Sun Yun for translating information for this article.