Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
therefore exclude most of the Nu River Gorge itself (Mertha 2008).
Pudacuo National Park in Shangri-La County, which is one parcel of the Three Parallel
Rivers World Heritage Area, is the first park in China to meet the standards of the Interna-
tional Union for the Conservation of Nature, a conglomeration of governments, conserva-
tion NGOs, scientists, and industry representatives from nearly 200 countries whose mis-
sion is to “conserve the integrity and diversity of nature” through science and policy advo-
cacy (Dowie 2009: xvi). The park area centers on two high alpine lakes—Shudu and Bita-
hai—both of which are situated at about 3,500 meters above sea level.
On a recent early-summer visit to the national park, which is located only 30 kilometers
outside of Shangri-La Old Town, I saw a beautiful dwarf rhododendron species with purple
flowers in bloom. The shorelines of both lakes were lined with thick stands of birch and
other deciduous trees, the higher elevations covered in larch, spruce, and fir as well as a
dense understory of rhododendron, azalea, and wildflowers. The valley bottoms, showing
the telltale U-shaped morphology of recently retreated glaciers, were carpeted in closely
cropped grassland that was still being grazed by roving herds of yaks and dzo s; a local her-
der outside the park entrance told me that although human settlement is not allowed inside
the park, local families are permitted regular pasture access. Chinese and foreign tourists,
who can often be seen squinting in the intense sunlight and inhaling supplemental oxygen
from canisters, pay a considerable entry fee to spend the day shuttling through the park by
bus or strolling along boardwalks that skirt the edges of the lakes and lead to prominent
overlook areas. Nearby restaurants have adapted the local cuisine to a variety of palates:
stir-fried yak meat for the Chinese tourists, yak burgers for the foreigners.
As I have already noted, the conservationist project is not new to Yunnan; European and
American explorers and naturalists have been cataloging, extracting, and even seeking to
protect the biological treasures of Yunnan for more than a century. But the extent of glob-
al involvement now evident in Yunnan is truly remarkable, as is the extent to which Yun-
nan's conservation models have borrowed so explicitly from the West (Weller 2006). Table
7.1 shows the categorization schema used by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature to designate different types of protected areas. Central to these global conser-
vation initiatives are semantic and symbolic constructions such as biodiversity . The term
usually refers to species richness, which, depending on spatial scale, can denote the num-
ber of species in a habitat, in a landscape, or in an ecoregion. But in the minds of those
who operate conservation organizations and in formal mission statements or policy propos-
als, alternative definitions of the term biodiversity are also put forward. Sometimes taxo-
nomic uniqueness—the number of endemic species in a given area—is a primary rationale
for conservation efforts. Other times, the presence of keystone species that perform crucial
ecological functions or the presence of high-profile species—so-called charismatic mega-
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