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On the Way- Travelers' stories

2015-08-21 13:16:20   By  LUO PENG    Reads(5501)

Ethical and Sustainable Travel Starts Here. WHY ECOACTION IS DIFFERENT ? See Interview at GoOverseas.

Julia's CAS project for Giant Panda in Ya'an, Sichuan

about image
Julia in traditional Yi clothing, by Luo Peng

Julia is an IB student from Sweden. In June, 2014, she jointed our CASS Project for Giant Panda. She severed as a volunteer in Ya'an Bifengxia Giant Panda centre, and in Sichuan Liziping National Nature Reserve. We've designed the project for her CAS project at IB, as well as helping Giant Panda conservation and local community. Here is her story and what she said about her experiences.

EcoAction got me thinking: are we spending too much on pandas? Or should we pay more attention to public education?

Biodiversity is the main reason for the creation of the large protected areas. Pandas proved to have great diplomatic success for China and are often regarded as a symbol of friendship. Therefore many conservation projects associated with pandas tend to use the panda as a symbol for more public attention. However, conservation projects can be very costly.

The protected area I visited with EcoAction is called Sichuan Province Liziping National Nature Reserve, which is the first place where pandas were reintroduced to the nature (currently there are three pandas that were reintroduced in this reserve). It is approximately 14,700 hectares large and each panda requires approximately 10 km2 to themselves because they eat bamboos that contain very little nutritional value therefore they require a large area. There was a Giant Panda expert called Yang Zhisong that accompanied us during our visit too. I was also given the opportunity to socialize with many friendly employees who help inspecting the reintroduced pandas' conditions.

Moreover, I visited the locals who lived near the reserved area. They are also known as Yi people, which are from an ethnic group. Before the protected area was national, the main source of income for the Yi people came from this area. However, after the government was in control of this area they forbid the locals to collect anything from the forest and created a long-term effect on the locals. Now that their development is restricted by the loss of their main source of income, their culture is harder to maintain since the children will be encouraged to go to a more modern society for a better income.

As individuals, we can also try to solve the issue. The main problem is that the importance of the local people is hindered by conservation and the Panda diplomacy. So my proposal is to spread the awareness through individuals volunteering in explaining about this issue in zoos or other places where Pandas are displayed. Although I believe that the most effective way is having children to experience the lives of the locals directly by visiting them and the protected area. This can lessen the number of people who think that these local people are insignificant compared to conservation and the Panda diplomacy. This is what I used to think, that some sacrifices could just be made, until I saw how they are going through a hard time. Therefore I would encourage trips to be organized for preferably teenagers to understand the problem in a more interesting and active way. Understanding the problems that the locals are facing does not only apply to the Yi People near the protected area but also to all of the other people who have lost their homes, resources or both because of national interest.

When I visited their village, I realized they did not have a school nearby and the women basically stayed at home without any work to do. Moreover, the school is 15km away from the village, causing great inconvenience in sending the children to school. In addition, there are no school buses because the government wants to avoid the risk of accidents due to the dangerous roads. Therefore we could create a project where we help them construct their own school where it is closer to their village and where the women can work as teachers. In addition, I would encourage them to preserve their own culture from education such as their language. To help them we could donate money for this project. However, some of the problems are who is going to manage the project and whether they can run this school by themselves. Moreover, it would be hard for the women to suddenly become teachers and it is unlikely that the children will be able to go to college after going to this school. However, I believe that education should not be absent in a community because it can help in preserving their culture and develop other ideas that may be very beneficial.

Pandas in Public Education

Before going to the trip, Luo Peng thoughtfully provided me questions to think beforehand. One of the many questions were "What do you think the Public should know about Giant Panda?"

If I did not go to this trip, I would have been like a normal tourist, taking pictures of pandas because they are cute and post them on something like Instagram. Then I would probably just leave without learning anything about pandas.

One of the purposes of displaying pandas to the public is to teach them characteristics and behaviors of pandas. As Peng suggested, volunteers can be there for tourists' information. Since pandas, just like any other animal, are easily misrepresented to the tourists as pets, the volunteers can also remind them of animal's right.

My first new challenge

During my trip to Ya'an with Luo Peng, I have not only seen many new things but also experienced things that got me to look at things in another perspective.

When one of the locals from the Yi ethnic group, Ou Laoyao took us to a walk in the protected area, I fell in love with the nature. It was my first time to walk in the wild. When we walked up along the mountains, we would see bamboos standing in clumps and pass by small fields of plants. The fallen bamboos would make cracking sounds every time we stepped on them. When we walked near the cliff we would see scenery of a stream flowing through various stones. Many paths were challenging so the trip became even more exciting. I used to be a very anthropocentric person, but when I got to experience the wildlife, I realized how big and beautiful the world is. In addition, it felt even more natural when the local person guided us.

This is honestly the most adventurous trip I've received. - Julia Li from Sweden

Also at Julia's Interview