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December 14, 2009

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China, Laos agree on nature reserve

CHINA and Laos have signed an agreement to jointly build a cross-border nature reserve to better protect Asian elephants and other rare animals, an official said yesterday.

Tang Zhongming, deputy director of the state-level Xishuangbanna Natural Reserve Administration, said the reserve covers 31,300 hectares of forests in China and another 23,400 hectares in Laos.

Protecting rare animals, including Asian elephants and Indo-Chinese tigers, is becoming more important due to improving economic and social development and increasing human encroachment into animal habitats, Tang said.

Biodiversity in the region also was increasingly at risk, the official said.

"The cross-border reserve is a pioneering and necessary work," Tang said.

According to the agreement, the two nations will provide technical training for staff members in the reserve, while also boosting protection awareness among villagers and people-to-people exchanges, he said.

The countries will study human-elephant conflicts and work out solutions, jointly patrol and monitor resources and launch inquiries on biodiversity.

The two will also launch a campaign to promote resources protection and set up a geographical information sharing system for the reserve.

About 250 Asian elephants, the largest land animal in Asia, live in the wild in the extreme southwest of China's Yunnan Province. The elephants frequently cross into Laos.

As recently as 1995, only 25,600 to 32,750 Asian elephants were thought to remain in the wild from India to Vietnam, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Since then, several populations have dwindled further and scientists fear current populations may have fallen well below 1995 estimates, the agency said on its Website.

Yang Songhai, director of the Xishuangbanna Natural Reserve Administration, said after years of bilateral exchanges and cooperation, the two sides have reached a consensus that natural protection has no borders.

"It's our duty to protect the wildlife and maintain ecological balance in the border region," Yang said.

The reserve is part of efforts to build better habitats for wildlife in the area.


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