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Walking the wild side

By Wang Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-24 08:39

Ranger places life on the line patrolling dangerous terrain, but he believes the rewards are worth the risk, Wang Qian reports.

China is home to 56 UNESCO World Heritage sites. To find out how these natural and cultural gems still shine and continue to inspire the nation in this new era of development, China Daily is running a series of reports covering 10 groups of selected sites from across the country. In this installment, we take a close look at picture-perfect Jiuzhaigou and its diverse wildlife, as well as the culinary tradition of Sichuan province.

The day starts early for Shi Xiaogang, a wildlife ranger at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Southwest China's Sichuan province. Before 6 am, he is ready and geared up, carrying a large backpack weighing about 20 kilograms.

Usually consisting of 10 rangers, Shi's team conducts long-range patrols, lasting up to two weeks, in some of the most extreme environments in the reserve. Every year, they spend more than 200 days on the front line of wildlife conservation.

As head of the reserve's Mujiangping protection station, Shi monitors the population of giant pandas and snow leopards, helps mitigate human-animal conflict and educates local communities. It is a challenging and, often, dangerous job.

Throughout his 30-year career, the senior ranger has frequently put his life on the line to protect Wolong's endangered wildlife.

"In the wild, you must be prepared for tough situations, such as landslides, avalanches or even a vicious wild animal," the 50-year-old ranger says, adding that survival techniques are necessary for work in the wilderness.

Covering about 200,000 hectares, Wolong is home to one of the largest remaining giant panda populations in China. Thanks to rangers like Shi, the number of wild giant pandas in the reserve has increased from 104, according to the fourth national panda survey released in 2015, to 149, says a DNA-based study released last year. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced that the giant panda's status had been changed from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on its Red List of Threatened Species.

As well as "the home of giant pandas", the reserve is widely known as a "bio-gene bank". It features a great number of endemic and threatened species of plants and animals, including other iconic creatures, such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard among the 121 species of mammals recorded. There are also 392 bird species.

To mark their hard work and contribution to wildlife protection in the reserve, last year, Shi's 20-member squad was recognized with special commendations at an online award ceremony for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas' International Ranger Awards.

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