Giant panda habitat placed on World Heritage List

Members of the 30th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) agreed on Wednesday in Vilnius to put China's giant panda habitat on the World Heritage List.

After deliberation, the WHC unanimously agreed to place the panda habitat on the list, making it the 35th Chinese site to be included.

"We greatly thank the Chinese government for submitting such a good application to the WHC to enrich the World Heritage List and its tremendous efforts to protect such a precious site of bio-diversity," said the WHC.

"This is a great success for China, the World Heritage Convention and for conservation in general," said David Sheppard, head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) delegation in Vilnius.

"It shows how the World Heritage Convention can encourage governments to ensure the greatest level of protection for globally important sites," he said.

Lu Zhi, professor from College of Life Science of Beijing University said Chinese governments of all levels have made long-time effort in protecting the rare giant pandas and their habitat, which covers an area of 9,245 square km between Da Duhe and Minjiang in southwest Sichuang Province.

The giant panda "serves as a flagship in terms of animal species and loved by people around the world," and "the habitat is of universal value in bio-diversity, which has been agreed universally," said Lu, a expert for the protection of natural heritage.

"That's why the UNESCO's World Heritage Center is keen to put it on the World Heritage List," she said.

The World Wildlife Fund's former China Director, James Harkness, once said that the panda's territory was one of the most critical regions for bio-diversity conservation in the world. Its diverse habitats contain many rare and endangered animals and plant species.

The inclusion is of great significance in better protecting rare animal species such as golden-haired monkeys, antelopes aside from giant pandas, as well as plant species whose numbers are more than 10,000 kinds in the area.

"To protect an animal is not just put it living in the zoo, but keep it live along in its own home," Lu said.

Wang Fengwu, member of the Chinese delegation to the meeting, told reporters that China had spent 20 years attempting to get the panda habitat included on the World Heritage List.

China's earnest will to protect world heritage received appreciation from the WHC, which put the panda habitat at the top of the agenda of 37 sites to be discussed for inclusion at the meeting.

The giant pandas and their habitat will be protected in the future not only in accordance with Chinese law but also international law, he added.

Wang believed that the successful inclusion of the site on the list would prompt effective protection of rare and endangered animals and plant species that depend on the habitat. This would help to ensure that the giant pandas survive for generations to come.

As China is not one of the 21 members of the WHC, it did not submit a report on the site, Wang told reporters, adding that the WHC agreed to place the site on the list after deliberating over a report submitted by international experts.

The report spoke highly of the habitat's bio-diversity value, describing it as an area featuring rare and endangered animals and plants.

Experts also said urgent improvements needed to be made to protect the site, proposing that the construction of water plants, roads and other development inside the habitat be controlled.

Aside from China's giant panda habitat, the committee also put Colombia's Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary and Finland's Kvarken Archipelago on the list.

The Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary forms part of the critical marine biological corridor with the Galapagos, Cocos and Coiba Islands Wolrd Heritage sites.

Its extensive marine area of 857,150 hectares is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and considered of huge value to maintain and replenish the number of threatened and endangered marine species.

The coastline of Finland's Kvarken Archipelago was recognized by the WHC for its global value in demonstrating the Earth's geological processes.

It is an extension of the High Coast of Sweden World Heritage site because of the uplift of the earth's crust following the retreat of the last ice age glaciers in this area some 10,000 years ago.

Furthermore, the WHC decided not to put the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia, on the List of World Heritage in Danger despite escalating threats to the site.

The number of the List of World Nature Heritage in Danger was reduced from 15 to 13 following the removal of the Tunisia's Ichkeul National Park and the Senegal's Djoudj Bird Sanctuary from the list.

But the WHC said it would consider putting the site into the danger list in 2007 if no progress has been made.

The July 8-16 session of the WHC has been examining 37 new sites from 30 states bidding to be included into the World Heritage List.

The ruins of the Shang Dynasty capital in Anyang city of Henan province are under discussion for inclusion into the cultural heritage list.

Source: Xinhua

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