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Tables turn near China nature reserve

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-30 09:34

The age-old conflict between man and nature has almost always shown our species in a poor light.

Humans have intruded into the homes of animals, colonized their habitats and endangered their survival.

But in an unusual chapter in this universal fight, the tables seem to have turned on people, affecting their cattle and crops.

In the Baima Snow Mountain Nature Reserve in Southwest China's Yunnan province, rural residents are increasingly demanding compensation for "troubles" caused by animals. The reserve, spanning 2,000 kilometers across the counties of Deqen and Weixi in the province's northwest, has a number of townships along its periphery.

In recent years, hundreds of claims have been filed with government-backed insurance companies by people living there, according to a local official I met in a bigger town in Yunnan last week. The common reasons for seeking compensation: bears or birds eating corn and other crops, bears "stealing" honey or hurting domestic animals.

The maximum one can get for bear attacks on yaks and cows is 4,400 yuan ($650) and on goats 500 yuan. Beehive damages inflicted by bears can fetch a family 45 yuan per kilogram of honey, and for a crop, it is 3 yuan per kg. Some villages in the area raise bees for honey. Never mind that bears come calling.

I forgot to ask the official if bee sting is covered, although he did say that human injuries have so far not been reported.

The claims need to be verified by the companies, he said, adding that the process involves giving evidence, such as photos or videos, filling out forms specifying the animal-related injury, theft of food or damage to property. An estimated 60,000 people live in the two counties close to the reserve, with many sustaining a livelihood through farming.

Others lead semi-nomadic lives and are perhaps at greater ease with wild animals.

Apart from the brown bear and the red fox that are found in the lower parts of the reserve, rare breeds, such as the snub-nosed monkey, snow leopard and the Tibetan pheasant reside higher up. Baima, where wildlife numbers have grown more in the past two decades, is protected by regulations that include long prison terms for killing some kinds of animals, the official said.

The reserve has dozens of full-time employees and gets help from volunteers in the neighboring villages. So, not everyone is aggrieved.

Yunnan is possibly the richest in biodiversity of all provinces and regions in China.

A foreign woman who has lived in the province for years described the place to me as a "botanist's paradise". During my visit to Yunnan, as I was driven along a highway that connects the province to the Tibet autonomous region, I saw abundant white rhododendron shrubs on mountain slopes.

Poverty alleviation is being targeted in some villages of Baima with the cultivation of herbs for use in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicines. These days there is more value in such enterprises than growing corn or barley, the official said, adding that cooperative animal husbandry and herbal farms are being encouraged.

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