Facebook Twitter 新浪微博 腾讯微博 Wednesday 3 June 2015
English>>Life & Culture

Market driving risky, deadly hunt for rare tree

(Global Times)    09:44, April 21, 2015

Illegal logging

Ren Yanfu, a 34-year-old man from the village of Jiaogou in Shanxi Province, was found dead at the base of a 30-meter-high cliff in July 2014, apparently the result of an abortive search for thuja sutchuenensis, known as yabaiin China.

The plant is an evergreen tree that usually grows on high cliffs, with long spreading branches that form a conical crown. The rare species is mainly located in Chongqing and Hubei, Sichuan, Shanxi provinces and was listed as Extinct in the Wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998. It was rediscovered in October 1999 and then was listed as Critically Endangered in 2003.

However, as a result of marketing hype in recent years, the species has gradually come to fame among Chinese collectors, triggering rising prices and nationwide felling.

Ren had bought into the craze. The root of yabai, which sells for over 100,000 yuan ($16,140) in Jiaogou village, drove him to return from a remote city and eventually took his life, reported the Nandu Daily on Wednesday.

Getting yabaiis never an easy task. Potential prospectors need to climb dozens or even hundreds of meters into the air without any protection. Ren was not the only one to die in this dangerous game, with about 20 similar cases allegedly having been found across China, said the report.

The deadly collection craze has not only been a catastrophe for a threatened species, but also raised concerns over weak supervision and an incomplete legal system on protecting the species.

Rags to riches

The village Jiaogou is home to 400 civilians, who used to rely on lands and crops but now seek a new way to make a fortune.

Selling yabaiin good condition could make a village the equivalent of a year's income. "At least 1 million yuan in yabaihas come out of this village," said He Jianjun, Jiaogou's village head.

Jiang Baishun (pseudonym), a villager who lives in a nearby county, said that he sold two yabaifor 11,000 yuan.

Local financial institutes are also assuming an important role in promoting this business. According to the Shanxi Economic Daily, when many of the residents of the village of Zecheng started hunting for yabaiin 2014, the local credit cooperative helped contact buyers. The bank also offered loans to villagers to buy tools like sanders and carving tools.

Chen Zhitian, director of the cooperative, told the Nandu Daily that "within one year, one local villager earned over 1 million yuan, while another three earned 800,000 yuan just by selling yabai."

Like yabai, some other plants, such as rosewood, have also seen soaring demands, which has triggered excessive harvesting.

Marketing hype

In recent years, yabaihas gained popularity among collectors due to its unique shape, long history and reputed medicinal value.

The Nandu Daily report found about 10 street stands selling yabaicould be seen in the Nangong Market in Taiyuan, Shanxi. One seller said that yabaiused to be sold for less than 1 yuan for 500 gram. However, since 2013, the price skyrocketed to hundreds or even thousands of yuan per 500 gram. The seller added that yabaiwith distinctive shapes or appearances even sell for as much as 1 million yuan.

However, experts pointed out that some of those circulating on the market are fake.

"Another species, cebai(Chinese arborvitae), was sold as yabai, as both share similar shapes and it is hard for ordinary people to tell," Xing Fuwu, a research fellow at the Guangzhou-based South China Botanical Garden with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Nandu Daily, adding that although cebaiis not on China's list of national protected wild plants, the species is on the country's list of protected ancient trees.

Collectors usually regard real yabaias those that are a thousand or more years old. Those sold for 1,000 yuan or less are very likely to be another species of hillside cypress, Gu Wenhao, an expert on the trade, told the Liaoning-based New Business in 2014.

Gu said that yabaiis very difficult to cultivate artificially. It is non-renewable and scarce. "Combing with market hype, the species quickly gained wide popularity," said Gu, adding that government's policies on protection of rosewood also turned investors' eyes to yabai, which contributed to the rise in price.

The Nandu Daily also said that local government's bans on the trade, perversely, may have actually encouraged illegal sales of the species. In the Nangong Market, one seller hawking their wares said, "Yabaiis forbidden to be sold in China. A bag of yabaichips are now sold at 150 yuan." Previously, it sold for 20 yuan.

Light punishments

Xing noted that the Forest Law has been used by local authorities to crack down on the trade. However, the law is vague with respect to the trade, and in most cases, violators face only light penalties.

According to the Forest Law, those who lumber forests or other trees illegally should face penalties up to 10 times the value of the stolen trees, or face criminal liabilities.

Forestry authorities in Hebei Province in December 2014 issued a notice stipulating harsh punishment for those who excavate, transport, sell or reproduce ancient trees and roots. However, the notice appears to have failed in stopping illegal felling of yabai, as there is no specific regulation stipulating how much money the authorities can fine offenders.

"A lack of legal guidance means we don't know how to punish illegal fellers, making it hard for us to crack down on them. Therefore, in most cases, we can only educate violators instead of punishing them," an official at the Hebei forestry public security bureau told the Legal Daily.

Yabaiwas placed on China's list of rare and endangered plant issued in 1984, but was not included on the list of national protected wild plants issued by the State Council in 1999.

Xing suggested that authorities use a notice on promoting protection of ancient trees issued by the landscaping department of the Ministry of Forestry to punish violators. The rules specifically protects trees over 100 years old.

The Zuoquan county government, which administrates Jiaogou village, announced Wednesday that they would crack down on anyone illegally harvesting, transporting, or selling yabai, the Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Gao Yinan,Yao Chun)

Add your comment

Related reading

We Recommend

Most Viewed


Key Words