Kangding County, Southwest China:
This was one of the most unusual Rapid Assessment Programs (RAP) we have ever been on, not just for the amazing wildlife we found but also because of the partners who joined us. Ordinarily when we inventory species in a hotspot area
, our team is composed of scientists and field assistants. This time, however, we were accompanied by several "imagineers" from the Walt Disney Company and a television crew from Discovery Networks.
The Discovery filmmakers joined us to make a documentary featuring our expedition. Disney's staff came to take notes for Expedition Everest, a new high-speed roller coaster ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida. The ride will have a strong Himalayan cultural aspect that will incorporate the RAP's findings. Together this unlikely fellowship spent days trekking into China
's remote, mountainous Tibetan Sacred Lands region, fording rivers, climbing rocky slopes, and enduring harsh weather.
Along the way, we were befriended by ethnic Tibetans who shared their food and homes with us and took great interest in CI's efforts to protect their lands. More than once, these local people
helped us negotiate flooded roads and mudslides.
But science was the primary mission of this month-long expedition, assessing the region's wildlife and vegetation so they can be protected. During the RAP, our experts identified a wealth of species: 691 plant varieties, 165 kinds of birds, and 17 mammal species including snow leopards (Uncia uncia
), giant pandas
), red pandas (Ailurus fulgens
), Asian golden cats (Catopuma temminckii
), and elusive takins (Budorcas taxicolor
We found that the higher elevation sites in Yajiang and Danba counties had good forest and strong land stewardship by the local communities. Unfortunately, their populations of large mammals
throughout the region have dwindled, mainly because of uncontrolled cattle and yak grazing practices. Proper livestock management and forestry
practices are crucial to creating long-term benefits to humans and wildlife. By working with the Sichuan Forestry Department on this RAP survey, we hope to be able to influence these practices in the future and bring these species back to healthy levels