China's nature reserves are under-funded and nearly self-supporting, says the State Forestry Administration. Less than 200 million yuan is given to the reserves from government. While developed countries get an average of US$2,058 for each square km and developing countries get US$157, China only receives US$52.7 per square km. With such a meager amount to work with, protection and research of wild animals in these areas is suffering.
Li Zhihong, former vice director of the Hunchun Nature Reserve in northeast China's Jilin Province says the facts speak for themselves.
"Nature reserves do not receive enough funds from the government, and their management fees are not included in the budget of the local government. The lack of funds directly influences the protection work of the nature reserves," he told China Business News.
The 108,700-hectare Hunchun Nature Reserve borders Russia and North Korea. It's the first nature reserve in China to focus on protecting endangered species like Siberian tigers and leopards, as well as their habitats.
Ironically, according to the China Business News report, this nature reserve dedicated to environmental protection is in danger itself due to a lack of funding. Huichan Nature Reserve was promoted to a national nature reserve in July 2005.
Li reported that the reserve staff has tracked movement of Siberian tigers 68 times and has even photographed the elusive and rare beast hunting for prey.
However the reserve's administration is facing a difficult financial situation. The Forestry Bureau of Hunchun City has paid the reserve's staff wages of more than 1 million yuan each year for the past three years, although they themselves are suffering a funding shortage of 10 million yuan annually.
The Hunchun Nature Reserve was originally set up by the forestry bureau which used to engage in logging and timber production. Since state restricted logging, income of the bureau has sharply declined. On the other hand, since the reserve is supported by the state, government investment is expected to keep the administration staff running.
Vice director of the reserve administration Xiao Wenli told China Business News that once wages are paid to the staff, there is no money left over and they must cover patrol costs themselves.
With only one jeep in administration and two in the six protection stations, they have to borrow cars from other units in order to patrol. They even lack basic communication equipment like CB radios and GPS.
According to the State Forestry Administration, most nature reserves are short of funding and are self-supporting.
In 2002, the State Forestry Administration allocated 5.14 million yuan to the Hunchun Nature Reserve. The reserve also received 1.2 million yuan from the Jilin provincial government and an additional 1 million yuan as a financial subsidy.
"These monies are not even enough for the infrastructure establishment." Li Zhihong said, "It is hard for us to further protect and research the tigers and leopards with fatalness due to lack of detection and research equipment."
Li believes it is the responsibility of all people in China and the world to protect Siberian tigers and leopards. If there is only support from Hunchun itself, Li feels it will be a long and difficult road ahead.
The State Forestry Administration proposed last year that the management fees of nature reserves be included in the public budget of the relevant government.
There is still hope for Hunchun Nature Reserve, a sanctuary for animals with dwindling numbers worldwide.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiaohua November 19, 2006)