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Tigers and Leopards to Get New National Park in China, 60% Bigger Than Yellowstone

One of the 27 Siberian tigers known to range into northeastern China. Photo credit: Beijing Normal University

China approved a new national park this month in northeast China in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces to save two endangered species—the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.

Only nine wild Siberian tigers were estimated to be living in this area in 1998, increasing to 27 by 2015 thanks to conservation efforts including a logging ban. The global population of Amur leopards was less than 30 in 2007, but almost doubled by 2015.

The sanctuary, to be completed by 2020, will border Russia and measure 5,637 square miles, an area 60 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park.

The current habitat for the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard is too small an area to provide enough prey for the carnivores, whose wide search for their usual elk, wild boar and deer has recently led them into residential areas. It has even been reported that tigers have been wandering into Jilin Province and eating dogs and cattle.

Governmental officials expect the national park to ease some of this conflict. "Local government plans to relocate some existing communities, factories from inside the national park area, so as to avoid conflicts between wildlife and human activities," a spokesperson for Jilin's Forestry Department told Xinhua.

China is using the success of Yellowstone, the world's first national park and one of the most popular U.S. destinations for recreational visitors, as a model for environmental and economic progress.

The Chinese government in 2015 declared its intention to develop a world-class national park system, and a partnership with the Paulson Institute. The self-described "non-partisan, non-profit 'think and do' tank" hosted Chinese government officials in 2016 for tours of U.S. national parks, trainings and advice.

China is seeking to evolve from what Science Magazine called a "mishmash of national reserves, semiprotected forests and provincial parks."

As reported by Mongabay:

"China boasts approximately 10,000 protected areas covering about 18 percent of the country, a proportion higher than the global average. But weak management and insufficient funding are threatening most of the protected areas' conservation efforts. To revamp the management of all of China's protected areas, in late 2013 Chinese President Xi Jinping included the development of a true national park system into the central committee's official plans for deeper reform. Nine pilot parks across the country were announced in June 2015."

The World Wildlife Fund calls the Amur leopard the "world's rarest cat" and describes the park's location, Amur-Heilong, as containing "one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world, vast steppe grasslands and the unbroken taiga biome."

The Jilin forestry department said it will set up a monitoring and rescue center for wild tigers and leopards, along with scientific and research facilities to complement the national park.

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