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October 6, 2019

Field trip to Ying Jiang: Immersive study on conservation- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

by yiyiwei

After I have done some general research on the spectrum of elements involved in conservation, the rest of July proceeded into the next stage of learning: field observation. Through first hand experiences, the goal is to understand more deeply into NGO’s role in conservation. I am learning an organization’s way of gaining information on the species that it is studying and the methods it uses to construct conservation strategies specifically for the area of interest. 

Liang recently had been collaborating with another Chinese local conservation organization Cloud Mountain (Yun Shan), as their conservation expert counselor. 

Cloud Mountain has been working with one critically endangered species called Skywalker hoolock gibbon (Hoolock tianxing).  As one of the few species named by Chinese, its major habitat is situated in western part of China and some part of Myanmar that shares a boarder with China. Yet due to unstable political situation in Myanmar, the status of this species in Myanmar remains unclear. On Chinese side of the boarder, Tianxing is distributed in 17 fragmented forests, with less than 150 individuals left in total (there is a chance that these Tianxing are the only ones left in the world.) For this field trip, we focused on a county called Ying Jiang, where it shares this boarder with Myanmar.

Skywalker hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock tianxing)
photo credit: Cloud Mountain Conservation
Distribution map of Tianxing in China
Photo credit: Cloud Mountain Conservation

This species is named Tianxing because it spends most of its life on top of trees, rarely coming down to the ground. Tianxing’s habitat requires a healthy ecosystem and because of that, it is almost impossible for the animal to be raised in captivity. Therefore, the presence of this species in an area is also a symbol for high biodiversity. 

Ying Jiang county, La Ma He village

For the past many years, Cloud Mountain had been focusing on scientific researches of Tianxing. Around their research base, they familiarized two Tianxing in order to study and observe closely. 

Even though some of Tianxing’s families are surviving in the protected forests, where human disturbances are forbidden by law, many of the families are still active in forests around villages, outside the protected zones. 

Meanwhile, villagers’ lives are also dependent on those forests. With large overlaps with Tianxing’s habitats, a healthy balance of co-existence between human and animal became a major concern for Cloud Mountain Conservation. For this field trip, Cloud Mountain planned for an early-stage, community-based investigation on villager’s and government’s understanding as well as concerns around their shared forests. 

village enclosed by mountains that are Tianxing’s habitat

Between July 15th and 19th, we first went to Bao Shan(city) outside of Ying Jiang and met with  their government’s deputy director of Preservation branch. Then we drove to Ying Jiang county  town, where we also met with Ying Jiang’s deputy director of Preservation (the meeting happened on the very last day). The town acted as a base for us to visit four villages—Jing Po, La Hong, La Ma He and Xiang Bai. These villages are more remotely situated in the mountains, which each required us driving for couple of hours.

In those villages, we first hiked around to check out the habitat and some of Tianxing’s monitoring spots planted by the local forest rangers. (I was very out of shape for those hikes but afterwards, we were usually treated by the villagers with really nice food and very ripened jackfruits.) We then sat around and had conversations with some families all together.

women looking for ripened jackfruit by tapping on each one of them with a stick and judging the sound of it

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