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as the Yunnan snub-faced monkey, a highly social primate that lives in forests up to 3,000
meters in elevation and subsists on leaves, fruit, and lichen, are exceedingly rare and have
inspired full conservation campaigns in their own right. In doing so, UNESCO and other
organizations have effectively staked a global claim on Yunnan's biodiversity, advancing a
moral vision of conservation as a critical project in which global actors and organizations
should take the lead.
TABLE 7.2 Fauna in the Three Parallel Rivers Region
Exemplar/Charismatic Species
Mammalia (Mammals) 173 species, 81 endemic Yunnan snub-faced monkey ( Rhinopithecus bieti )
Aves (Birds)
417 species, 22 endemic Yunnan white-eared pheasant ( Crossoptilon crossoptilon )
Reptilia (Reptiles)
59 species, 27 endemic Big-headed turtle ( Platysternon megacephalum )
Amphibia (Amphibians) 36 species, 35 endemic Yunnan mustache toad ( Leptobrachium ailaonicum )
Multiple Classes (Fish) 75 species, 35 endemic Yunnan catfish ( Pseudexostoma yunnanensis )
Source : Original documentation to establish the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Areas (UNESCO 2003).
Especially in the highly developed nations of the world, public realization of the rapid
decline of biodiversity has led to an imperative to change course. This realization supplies
the premise for a powerful argument in favor of mobilizing people, institutions, and fin-
ancial resources in the service of biodiversity conservation. In suggesting that biodiversity
is a global resource that belongs to all of us—even those of us who will never see it with
our own eyes, much less rely on it for our subsistence—as a form of common heritage,
international conservation organizations raise crucial questions for debate. To whom does
biodiversity “belong”? Who can legitimately engage in biodiversity protection and at what
spatial scale? In an important sense, biodiversity is not merely a central concept within
the natural sciences, but also a social construct, an organizing domain for policy advocacy,
and a call to action for global citizens concerned about environmental degradation. It is a
“transnational movement” (West 2006:25; see also Lowe 2006).
As this movement takes shape, places such as Yunnan have come to be understood as
fragile, precarious, and in need of protection, often from the human inhabitants whose
economic activities and management practices have historically shaped the ecology of the
place. This modern conservation project is not so different from the ones undertaken by
scientist-explorers such as Francis Kingdon Ward and Joseph Rock a century ago: to ob-
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