While the national panda park may get most headlines, China has also approved plans for a national park tasked with saving its dwindling population of the world’s most endangered big cats.
The 5,600 square mile park will span across the snowy hinterlands between Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, providing a home for the rare Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard.
Unlike the giant panda, both these big cats are dangerously close to extinction. In 2007, there only 40 Amur leopards left in the wild, including none in China or Korea with only a tiny population surviving in remote Russia. But thanks to conservation efforts, that number has now doubled with 12 leopards spotted living in or near China.
Meanwhile, the Siberian or Amur tiger’s population has rebounded even more spectacularly from similar lows. There are now around 400 tigers roaming around, mostly in Russia, but at least 30 in China where they occasionally cause some trouble with the locals.
In captivity, the tigers are swelling — but not in a particularly good way. Just after the Spring Festival holiday, photos of Siberian tigers at the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park near Harbin went viral because of the big cats, chubby appearance.
Later, the park claimed that bad camera angles and cold weather were to blame for the tigers’ apparent obesity, and put on a publicity stunt in which the tigers took down a drone. Unfortunately for them, the stunt dug up exactly the wrong kind of publicity as news outlets wrote about how the park had been recently implicated in the tiger bone and wine trade, alleging that it was more of a tiger farm than a wildlife park.
Which is why national park proposals like these are so important. According to the Huffington Post, a comprehensive plan for the national big cat park is expected to rolled out by 2020. Last year, officials said that they were hopeful to be able to turn 30,000 loggers, hunters and poachers in the region into park rangers and conservation workers.
The tiger park is just one part in a noteworthy effort by China to completely overhaul its system of national parks. Instead of a haphazard system of national reserves and provincial parks, China is planning over 20 national parks in its latest five-year plan. To kick off this effort, state media has announced the development of four national parks that will be centered around a single endangered species: pandas, Asian elephants, Tibetan antelope, and Amur tigers and leopards.
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