2017-07-13 07:51:22

The endangered green peafowl is under threat from illegal human activity in a conservation area in southwestern China, according to a Greenpeace report published Wednesday.

The environmental organization discovered that a mining company had begun operating in the core zone of the Konglong River Nature Reserve in Yunnan province. Even entering such a conservation area is illegal, but the company had built roads, mine shafts, and storehouses for explosives, according to satellite photos provided by Greenpeace.

“The mining activity in this area is in flagrant disregard of the law, endangering a protected habitat and contributing to the threat of extinction of one of the world’s rarest birds,” Greenpeace East Asia forestry campaigner Yi Lan told Sixth Tone.

Xu Youzhong, owner of Yinyang Mining Co. Ltd., did not deny that his company had set up operations in the reserve during an interview with Sixth Tone. But he said that there are currently no plans to continue mining in the area, as the government had suspended the project for environmental reasons.

The green peafowl, a type of pheasant that used to be found all over Southeast Asia’s tropical forests, is now facing extinction. The current population of less than 500 green peafowl all live in the Red River Basin in Yunnan province, and the Konglong Reserve is the only protected area that falls within in the peafowl’s current habitat.

Greenpeace reported its discovery to the State Forestry Administration, which on Thursday responded with a letter seen by Sixth Tone in which they said they will ask the provincial forestry authorities to investigate the matter.

According to official records, Yinyang Mining signed a development contract with the county government in 2012, and obtained prospecting licenses for two areas in 2013. However, these areas overlap with the core zone of the nature reserve, violating a 1994 law stipulating that no individual or company can enter such an area. Nevertheless, with support from the county government, the company signed a 600 million-yuan ($88 million) investment contract in August 2016 to mine silver and lead in the area.

In late 2016, the provincial government of Yunnan ordered the mine to reduce its area of operations. The company’s prospecting permits for the two mining areas expired in February and March this year and have not been renewed, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources. Sometime in 2017, the prefecture government suspended the operation entirely, but according to Greenpeace, the site has not been restored. Xu said the roads in the area had been removed; however, Greenpeace found during an onsite visit in late June that they were still there.

Nature reserves are regularly under threat from industrial and commercial activity. Last year, environmentalists in southern China discovered that a road catering to tourists had been built through the Nanling National Nature Reserve. In November, public prosecutors sued a government department in northeastern China because a mine had been built in a reserve for Siberian tigers.

Greenpeace also found a road in Konglong’s core zone leading to an under-construction hydropower project just outside the reserve.

The hydropower station is being built on the Xiaojiang River, which flows through the Konglong Reserve. In March, photographers from Wild China Film, an organization of wildlife photographers, spotted green peafowl in the river basin just a few hundred meters from the station.

“If the station stores water, the water level will rise and flood the river shoals where the green peafowl reside,” Xi Zhinong, the wildlife photographer who founded Wild China Film, told Sixth Tone.

“The Yunnan provincial government urgently needs to draw up its ecological red lines to protect this internationally important bird,” said Yi of Greenpeace, referring to a guideline published in 2015 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection that asks provinces to set up “ecological red lines” for species with extremely small populations.

Environmental activists have been calling for better green peafowl protection since March, when an ongoing hydropower project on the Jiasa River, also in the Red River Basin, endangered another of the rare bird’s few remaining habitats.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: An aerial view of the Xiaojiang River hydropower station in Shuangbai County, Yunnan province, June 17, 2017. Courtesy of Li Wei/Greenpeace)