The National Parks of Yunnan:
Using Traditional Tibetan Culture to Protect one of the Last Great Places on Earth
Christine Tam and Ma Jianzhong
Thursday, 23 June 2005
2/F Sports House, So Kong Po, Causeway Bay
Drinks 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm
We are delighted to welcome to Hong Kong Christine Tam and Ma Jianzhong, scientists from The Nature Conservancy's China programme, to speak on the use of Tibetan culture and indigenous knowledge in developing and implementing conservation strategies in northwest Yunnan to protect biodiversity. The four great rivers of Northwest Yunnan form a series of mountains and valleys so high and deep as to make a topography like none other in the world. Here, the Salween, Mekong, Irrawaddy and mighty Yangtze Rivers flow northsouth within 60 km of each other, before they diverge across southeast Asia, towards some 20% of the world's population. This area recently listed as a World Heritage Site is the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem on Earth. Dramatic topography makes this area a haven for more than 7,000 plant species, nearly half of all Chinese medicinal herbs and at least 30 endangered animal species including the snow leopard, panda, golden monkey and blacknecked crane. The area is also home to 15 of China's 55 ethnic minority groups. In the furthest northern reaches of this area lies Kawagebo, a deeply sacred Tibetan mountain, soaring 6,740 meters into the heavens. It is at the base of this great mountain that Ms Tam and Mr Ma work with local Tibetans to protect their rich resources from modern pressures. They use Tibetan culture and indigenous knowledge in developing and implementing conservation programmes to protect biodiversity. Traditional Tibetan culture has a deep respect for nature, which has already led to an informal network of protected areas. Through an unprecedented partnership with the Chinese government to protect this area, Ms Tam and Mr Ma and their teams have been working to understand better these local systems of cultural biodiversity protection, in addition to using ordinary international protection methods. Combining the two has proved highly successful in saving the region. In an area roughly the size of Ireland, what is now named the Yunnan Great Rivers Project, is developing protection strategies for key conservation priorities, while helping to give compatible economic development opportunities, such as ecotourism, to bring muchneeded revenue into this remote part of western China. It is also helping to introduce alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar power to local villages to reduce logging and help protect the area's valuable forest watersheds. Christine Tam is Deputy Director of conservation programmes. Previously, she worked as a fisheries and wildlife biologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sierra Nevada range, director of an outdoor programme for innercity youth, an editor for a newsletter about Russian conservation issues in Moscow, and as a research assistant with the Gorilla Foundation, giving her the opportunity to chat in sign language with gorillas as well as regularly wade chestdeep through raging Sierran waters. She has a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a master's from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in wildlife ecology. Now with the China Programme for almost 3 years, Ms Tam guides conservation planning, science and strategic efforts across northwest Yunnan. Ma Jianzhong, an indigenous Tibetan, was previously a researcher at Yunnan Academy of Forestry and was involved in projects focusing on rural development and sustainable nature resource management. Now as a project manager and conservation scientist, he is responsible for the Meili Snow Mountain Project in northwest Yunnan. Closely working with local partners, Mr. Ma is leading his multicultural team to conserve biodiversity and cultural diversity through various strategies. Mr. Ma has also published articles and books on sustainable resource management, ecological indigenous knowledge and biodiversity conservation. Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$50 for Members, HK$100 for Members' guests and HK$150 for others.