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Places We Protect: Northern Gaoligong Mountain Range


Extending more than 300 miles along Yunnan's border with Myanmar, the narrow, jagged Gaoligong mountain range meets with the Salween River in a dramatic 500-mile-long gorge. The mountains form a divide between two major rivers in Asia, with the Salween, known to the Chinese as the Nu River to the east and the Irrawaddy to the west. Two more great rivers, the Yangtze and the upper Mekong, converge where the mountains meet the Nujiang River gorge. Remote and rugged, the Gaoligong Mountains are recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot and the epicenter of plant endemism in northwest Yunnan.

A Museum of Biodiversity
Because of its abundant precipitation, accommodating microclimate, and huge elevation span, the Northern Gaoligong Mountain Range project area has been identified as a veritable museum of biodiversity. It is estimated that roughly 3,500 species of plants, including spermatophyte, fern and macro-fungi, grow here, as does a large and intact swath of old-growth forest. Specifically, the Gongshan project area is home to about 55 endangered or rare seed plants and a total of 318 plant species found nowhere else on Earth. Various ornamental plants ranging from fern to orchid make the project area a natural garden.

More than 400 vertebrate species and 1,700 invertebrate species have been recorded in the Gongshan Nature Reserve. Scientists believe the number will rise as the Conservancy conducts further surveys of the area.

Our Conservation Strategy
Unfortunately, the Northern Gaoligong Mountain Range project area is under increasing pressure from incompatible development and human use. The foremost threats to China's aquatic resources are neither over-fishing nor industrial pollution, but rather dams and reservoirs. Currently, the central government is developing plans to build a series of 13 dams along the Nu River — undoubtedly posing a major threat to the Nu River ecosystem.

The Nu River is one of the last two remaining river systems in China that is ecologically intact. For this reason, it's crucial to protect this healthy and incredibly valuable ecosystem before it is too late. Elements of our strategy include:

  • Coordinating with key partners — government bureaus, international organizations, and local communities — to conserve these precious and valuable resources and ecosystems.
  • Aligning conservation strategies to prevent threats to the rich biodiversity and wealth of cultural heritage.
  • Meeting with community members to understand their needs and relationships with the environment.
  • Providing technical assistance to Nature Reserve managers in implementing conservation area management plans.
  • Helping to develop policy and legislation to support protected areas at the local, provincial, and national levels.

Taking Action
The Conservancy's work in the Gaoligong mountains includes:

  • Creating the Conservancy's Northern Gaoligong Mountain Range project area through an official partnership with the Yunnan Provincial Forestry Department.
  • Holding community workshops to encourage local conservation and help nature reserve staff develop focused conservation strategies.
  • Assessing the legal framework, staffing, training, community support and long-term financial planning of the Gongshan Management Bureau to make it more effective.
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