China just approved a massive new national park to help protect endangered big cats. The 5,637 square mile park – which will be 60 percent bigger than America’s Yellowstone National Park – will serve as a sanctuary for Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
Big cats have struggled in northeast China, where the park will be built. Excessive logging deteriorated the ecosystem and caused the population of wild Siberian tigers to plummet dramatically. A field survey by scientists from the United States, Russia, and China found signs of just six to nine of the tigers in the area in 1998. A 2015 northeast China logging ban may have helped; now experts estimate there are around 27 Siberian tigers there. Meanwhile Amur leopards are critically endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which said there are only over 60 of these animals still alive in the world.
Small habitat areas have prompted Siberian tigers and Amur leopards to roam into residential areas looking for food, according to EcoWatch, which quoted a Jilin Forestry Department spokesperson as saying to ease conflict between humans and the big cats, they will relocate some communities and factories currently inside the area for the park.
China’s new national park will be in the provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, bordering Russia. The park will include a monitoring and rescue center for wild big cats, along with research facilities. WWF Beijing’s Species Program Director Fan Zhiyong said the initiative could help improve cooperation between the two countries to conserve wildlife. Jilin Forestry Department Director Lan Hongliang also said they expected the national park to act as a channel for international interchange on protecting wild animals.
The Jilin government said they will start preparing for national park management by the end of this year. According to Xinhua, a plan and pilot park could be finished before 2020.