John Fellowes and Michael Lau
(With thanks to Bosco Chan and Billy Hau)



Members taking part in the field survey to Sanyue, Guangdong in 2001

Ten years ago Hong Kong's Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden (KFBG) launched its new biodiversity conservation programme in Mainland China. It was not KFBG's first involvement in the Mainland, with plant conservation exchanges by the late Gloria Barretto since the 1970s. From February 1998 though, we had a team dedicated to minimising biodiversity loss particularly in the southern provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan. This South China Biodiversity Team (or "China Team"), initially overseen by KFBG's Flora Conservation Department head Dr Lawrence Chau, comprised ecologists/zoologists Dr Michael Lau, Dr John Fellowes, Dr Billy Hau (shared with Flora Dept., where he founded the native tree nursery), Graham Reels (shared with Fauna Conservation Dept.) and Lee Kwok Shing, joined soon by administrative officer Ruthie Lau and Gloria Siu (also shared with Flora). A big job for a few people - where to start?

Learning curve
Our first need was to educate ourselves, and others, about the status of the biota and of conservation efforts in the region. We embarked on a series of rapid biodiversity assessments of natural forest areas, mainly nature reserves, focusing especially on the faunal groups with large data gaps which could be filled quite efficiently. Besides its wealth of Hong Kong field experience the core team already had positive experience in the Mainland including brief pilot surveys in 1995-1997.1,2,3 The KFBG-funded 1997 surveys, conducted with the help of partners at South China Agricultural University, South China Institute of Botany and Guangdong and Guangxi Forestry Departments, had opened our eyes to the rich biota in the region's reserves, but also to the poor state of knowledge about them, and the imminent threats some of them were facing. Now, working with colleagues in various research and forestry institutions, we visited over 50 forest areas over five years.

Bretschneidera sinensis (Class I Nationally protected species)
A new record to Hainan discovered in Yinggeling in 2003


The surveys were followed by a not-so-rapid reporting process - many surveyed taxa including plants, fishes and insects required a time-consuming identification effort, and recording and interpreting the information for the benefit of management authorities consumed much of the team's time in the early years. Meanwhile other responsibilities vied for attention, including KFBG's new Hong Kong Ecological Advisory Programme, initially coordinated by the China Team, but for which specialist staff were later recruited.

In 2001 the core Team changed, as Billy Hau moved to The University of Hong Kong to follow his teaching vocation and John Fellowes and Michael Lau became part-time. Meanwhile Dr Bosco Chan, involved in the programme from its beginning but committed to completing his PhD, became available and joined the team, along with botanist Dr Ng Sai Chit. They inherited a reporting backlog, whilst adding to it by undertaking further surveys. At length though, the field reports flowed, in English4,5 and then Chinese.6

Channelling information
Gradually then,7,8 we and our colleagues built a clearer picture of the distribution and status of the region's birds,9,10,11,12 amphibians and reptiles,13,14,15 dragonflies16,17,18,19,20 and ants,21,22 and added substantial new information to the existing picture on mammals,23,24,25 plants26,27,28,29,30 and fishes31,32,33 along with numerous taxonomic contributions including the discovery of many new species34,35,36,37,38,39,40 (these references being only a sample). The core team's surveys were supplemented by those of supported partners.41,42 The huge body of data generated was not very accessible, and often rather sensitive, such that some editing was required before the survey reports could become available online.43 Much of the acquired information has been channelled into global, national and local status assessments,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51 and shared with conservation authorities. It has helped draw international support to conservation in the region,52,53,54,55 and supported the upgrading to national status of several outstanding nature reserves, including Shiwandashan and Cenwanglaoshan in Guangxi, and Wuzhishan and Diaoluoshan in Hainan. Meanwhile we have contributed to national consultations on conservation, notably through the Biodiversity Working Group and its successors under the China Council for International Cooperation in Environment and Development.56,57,58,59,60

We have also concentrated on understanding threats.61,62,63,64 One key contribution has been wild animal market monitoring from 2000 to 2006, building on earlier work.65,3 This resulted in unique data on trends in the devastating regional wildlife trade and helped focus international attention on the crisis faced by Asian turtles and other wildlife.61,66 Besides leading to changes in global status of some species, such as turtles,67 and outputs directed at improving policy68,69,70,71,72,73 including protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)74,75,76, more people and groups are now engaged in tackling the South China wildlife trade.77 One brief market survey in 1998 led to the rediscovery of the White-eared Night Heron, then feared on the verge of extinction;78 further work by partners and ourselves found the species more widespread than thought, but it remains Endangered.79,80,81,82



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