Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, China


Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (29º00' - 25º30'N, 98º15 - 100º20'E) is a World Heritage Site in the Yunnan Province of the Peoples Republic of China.

Geographical Location

Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is situated in south-west China. The site consists of 15 protected areas (in eight geographic clusters) in the mountainous northwest of Yunnan Province. The western and northern boundaries of the site border Myanmar and Tibet, in the high Hengduan Mountains (that comprise a large proportion of the nominated area), approximately 320 kilometers (km) northwest of Kunming.

caption Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan. (Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre)

Extending 310 km from north to south (29º00' - 25º30'N) and 180 km from east to west (98º15 - 100º20'E). Bordering the Yunnun-Tibet border in the north, the Yunnan-Sichuan border in the east, the Sino-Burma border in the west, the site encompasses large sections of three of the great rivers of Asia, the Yangtse (Jinsha), Mekong (Lacang) and Salween (Nu Jiang), which run parallel from north to south through the nominated area for over 300 km. The rivers pass through steep gorges, in places up to 3,000 meters (m) deep. At their closest the three gorges are 18 km and 66 km apart. For 70km a fourth parallel river (Dulong Jiang) flows along the western protected area margin before entering Myanmar as one of the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River system.

The site extends over 8 counties and 3 perfectures and is composed of 8 principal sub-land areas totaling 1,698,419 hectares (ha). Fifteen protected areas comprising 5 nature reserves and 10 scenic areas are contained within these sub-land areas. The land areas include Gaoligong Mountain Area (514,022 ha), Baima-Meili Snow Mountain (349,019 ha), Laowo Mountain Area (49,161 ha), Laojun Mountain Area (131,427 ha), Yunling Mountain Area (89,787 ha), Red Mountain Area (364,687 ha) and Haba Mountain Area (200,315 ha).

Dates and History of Establishment

  • 1983: Gaoligong Mountain and Baima Mountain National Parks designated;
  • 1984: Bita and Napa Lakes and Haba and Yulong Mountain reserves designated;
  • 1985: National Interim Rules on the Management of Scenic and Cultural Resorts decreed; and made the responsibility of the Ministry of Rural and Urban Construction & Environmental Protection;
  • 1986: Laojun Mountain reserve designated;
  • 2000: Overall plan for the protection and management of the property submitted to the central government.


Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas extends over a total area of 1,698,400 ha, encompassing the watershed areas of the Yangtse (Jinsha), Mekong (Lacang) and Salween (Nujiang) rivers. The site extends over 8 counties and 3 perfectures and is composed of 8 principal sub-land areas totalling 1,698,419 ha. Fifteen protected areas comprising 5 nature reserves and 10 scenic areas are contained within these sub-land areas. The land areas include Gaoligong Mountain Area (514,022 ha), Baima-Meili Snow Mountain (349,019 ha), Laowo Mountain Area (49,161 ha), Laojun Mountain Area (131,427 ha), Yunling Mountain Area (89,787 ha), Red Mountain Area (364,687 ha) and Haba Mountain Area (200,315 ha).

Land Tenure

The People's Republic of China, Yunnan province, Diqing and Nujiang Prefectures and Lijiang county. The site is administered by the Management Office of the Three Parallel Rivers Scenic and Cultural Resort of Yunnan Province, under the direction of the National Ministry of Construction.


Ranges from 760 m to 6,740 m (Mt.Kawagebo, Meilishan), the highest peak in the region. Over 118 peaks within the nominated areas have an altitude greater than 5,000 m, while the Meili Snow Mountains on the Tibetan border are an impressive range of glaciated peaks over 6,000 m.

Physical Features

Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is composed of a group of protected areas stretching 310 km from north to south and 180 km, from east to west in remote, forested back-country. The world heritage area lies over four parallel north-south trending mountain ranges that reach a height in excess of 4,000m above sea level in altitude. From the west they are: the Gaoligongshan on the Myanmar border, the Nushan (Meilishan, Biluoshan and Laowoshan ranges), the Baimang-Yunliangshan and Laojunshan ranges and the lower Qianhushan and Hongshan ranges on the east. These ranges are part of the Hengduan Mountains located beyond the eastern end of the Himalayas, which have been corrugated and uplifted by the pressures of crustal folding. The western ranges bear cloud forest that becomes tropically dense in the south. The northern mountains are barer but snow-capped, culminating in Mt Kawagebo close to the Tibetan border, from which flows the southernmost glacier in China, Mingyongqia.

Three great rivers the Yangtse (Jinshajiang), Mekong (Lacang) and Salween (Nujiang), flow from north to south, through steep parallel gorges in the National Park. In places the gorges are 2,000 m deep. At their closest the three gorges are 18 and 66 km apart, and for 70 km there is a fourth parallel river on the western edge, the Dulongjiang, which runs into Myanmar, with west of it, the Dandanglika range. The Mekong runs through a gorge 310 km long.

The site is dominated by a huge composite orogenic belt that shows the signs of powerful crustal movements in the past. Notably the compression of the edge of the Eurasian [plate by the underlying Indian plate which is being subducted along the line of the Lancang River fault. The resulting squeeze created vast thrust-nappes, violent shearing and uplift into high mountains (Hengduan Mountains and and the uplift of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau), through which pre-existing rivers continue to cut, resulting in the extreme vertical relief which characterizes the area. There is a wide range of rock types which provide evidence the area's past marine evolution under the Tethys and neo-Tethys seas (a shallow sea that existed during the early Mesozoic Era and was the body of water that separated the landmass of Laurasia in the north from Gondwanaland in the south), which have been powerfully deformed by the collision. Some of the results are visible in complex patterns of folded rock and unusual mineral formations. Four types of igneous rock are evident: ultrabasic, basic, intermediate acid and alkali rock as well as fairly developed ophiolite, in association with deep-water silicalite.

The site is also an excellent representative of alpine landscapes and their evolution. The eastern mountains, plateaus and valleys are covered with meadows, waterfalls and streams and hundreds of small glacial lakes left by glacial erosion processes. More than 424 glacial lakes, glacial moraines and other glacial landforms remain. A variety of alpine karst features exist within the nominated area. They include karst caves such as 'The Stone Moon Cave' in the Fugong and Walaya cave system in Lushui, calcareous tuff deposits (Baishuitai in Zhongdian and Shigu-Shitou in Lijiang) and alpine karst peak clusters (Binzhongluo in Gongshan, Wongshui and Gezan in Zhongdian, Shigu-Shitou in Lijiang) created by glacial action and associated erosional processes. Examples of Quaternary alpine glaciers and modern glaciers can be found, some of the best modern glaciers include Mingyongqia (located under the peak of Mt Kawagebo), Siqia and Haba. There are also large areas of granite erosional peaks (Fugong to Gonshan) and sandstone monoliths / alpine Danxia landforms (old Tertiary red calcareous sandstone eroded by wind and water). A typically well-developed area illustrating this is Lijiang Liming. Such varied terrain gives the region great scenic as well as geological interest.

The protected core nature reserves and scenic areas comprising the site lie within the watersheds of the three gorges:

  1. In the Nujiang River watershed: the large Gaoligong Mountains National Nature Reserve includes the Dulong River valley and two units further south which, with the Yueliang Mountain nature reserve, are connected by the Gong and Yueliang Mountain scenic areas and Pianma scenic area;
  2. In the Lancang River watershed: the western half of the large Baimang Snow Mountains National Nature Reserve, the Meili Snow Mountains nature reserve and scenic area, and the Julong Lake nature reserve and scenic area; and further south, the Laowo Mountain nature reserve and scenic area, and the Yunling Mountains proposed Nature Reserve;
  3. In the Jansha River watershed, the eastern half of Baimang Snow Mountains National Nature Reserve, and in the east, the Bita Lake Provincial Nature Reserve with the Hong (Red) Mountains nature reserve and scenic area, the Haba Snow Mountains Provincial Nature Reserve, Haba Snow Mountains nature reserve and scenic area, the Qianhu Mountains nature reserve and scenic area, and in the southeast, the two core reserves and scenic area in the Laojun Mountains. All the land between these areas is buffer zone.


The site's climate is as varied as its topography. The west side of the area receives the Indian Ocean south-western monsoon, which is trapped against the Tibetan plateau, creating permanent snow-cover on peaks over 5,000 m. The Pacific Ocean southeastern monsoon affects the southeast less strongly, while frigid airflows from Qinghai and Tibet in the north, bring a cooler sub-humid climate to the north and northeast margins of the area. The central region experiences föhn winds from the west and the south at heights below 1,000 m in elevation, creating humid, near tropical conditions. Annual rainfall ranges from 4,600 millimeters (mm) in the far west (Dulongjiang valley) falling mainly in summer, to 400 mm in the rain-shadowed upper Yangtse valley in the north. Persistent fog limits settlement development above 2,400 m. Temperatures vary from subtropical in the valleys to frigid on the snow-covered mountain peaks.


The land area encompassed by Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is one of the world's least disturbed temperate ecological areas, an epicenter of Chinese endemic species and a natural gene pool of great richness. It supports the richest diversity of higher plants in China and a wide range of fungi and lichens. Owing to its altitudinal range and its position in a climatic corridor between north and south, it includes the equivalents of seven climatic zones: southern, central and northern subtropical with dry hot valleys, warm, cool and cold temperate, and cold zones. Owing to its function as a refuge during the last ice age and its location near the boundaries of three major bio-geographical realms, east Asia, southeastern Asia and the Tibetan plateau, the Park has 22 vegetation subtypes and 6,000 plant species. This represents over 20% of China's higher plants, 10% of which are endemic to the area, in 45 endemic genera, and the type localities of 1,500 of them. The history of the site has resulted in marked species differentiation from relict and primitive to highly evolved species. 2,700 of the nominated area's plants are endemic to China. 8.5% of China's rare and endangered species have been recorded in the area. Of these 33 are nationally protected, 12 of them rare, 22 threatened and 37 have province-wide protection.

The range of vegetation types of the area includes:

  • Evergreen broadleaved forests: monsoon, humid, semi-humid, higher humid;
  • Sclerophyllous evergreen broadleaved forests: cold temperate mountain, hot dry valley;
  • Deciduous broadleaved forests: (Quercus and Alnus forests);
  • Warm coniferous forests: warm-hot, warm temperate, coniferous-broadleaved mixed;
  • Temperate coniferous forests: temperate cool, temperate cold (Picea and Abies forests);
  • Savanna shrublands: dry hot savanna;
  • Shrub lands, dry warm valleys, cold temperate;
  • Meadows, sub-alpine, alpine;
  • Alpine debris-flow scrub;
  • Alpine lacustrine: emergent, floating-leaf, submerged.

caption There are over 200 species of Rhododendrons in the Yunnan Provincial Area. (Source: University of Richmond)

Monsoon forest occurs in lower reaches of Dulong and Nujiang Rivers while semi-humid evergreen broadleaved forest occurs in the lower reaches of Lancang and Jinsha River. Middle subtropical humid evergreen broadleaved forests are found on the mid-slopes of Gaoligong Mountain and Biluo Snow Mountain. Middle subtropical sclerophylous evergreen forest along the middle reaches of thr Lancang and Jinsha River are dominated by Quercus species. Temperate deciduous broadleaved forest occurs at an altitude of 3,000-3,500 m. Warm-cool coniferous forest grows at an altitude of 2,800-3,300 m and cold-temperature coniferous forest at 3,300-4,100m. Dry-hot savanna-like ecosystem appears in river valley areas of the lower reaches of the Lancang and Jinsha rivers, while microphyllous shrublands (desert) ecosystem of dry-warm river valleys occurs in the upper reaches of the Lancang and Jinsha rivers. Alpine meadows predominate above the tree line (3,500-4,000 m) in Gaoligong, Nushan and Yunling Mountains these are interspersed by Alpine Shrublands (4,000-4,500 m) which are predominated by many rhododendron species. Alpine-debris flow ecosystems occur at elevations of 3,500-4,500 m in Nushan and Yunling Mountains.

The most abundant plant types are northern temperate (20.2%), pan-tropical (14.2%), tropical-Asian (13%) and East Asian (13%). The very wet western border with Myanmar is forested with subalpine conifers (fir and spruce) mixed with broadleaf evergreens with a flora closely related to the eastern Himalayan along with much sub-tropical scrub. In the cloud forests, trees are draped abundantly with the lichen Usnea longissima. The Nu and Lancang river gorges have tropical scrub fringed by mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest, which is especially rich in mid-elevation temperate conifers, some endemic to the gorges. These include Taiwania flousiana, hemlock Tsuga dumosa, cypress Cupressus duclouxiana and Juniperus spp. Other endemic or locally common rare conifers are from the genera Keteleeria, Pseudotsuga, Platycladus and Cunninghamia. Broadleaf forests are often dominated by the subalpine oak Quercus aquifolioides. On the mountains to the east of them, forests of Likiang spruce Picea likangensis and P.brachytyla from 3,100-3,500 m and Chinese fir Abies georgei and A.delavayi from 3,500-4,000m predominate, associated with Chinese larch Larix potanini and Pinus densata on cleared or disturbed ground. The whole area is characterized by isolated ridge top and valley bottom habitats. The drier plateau of the Hongshan in the east is dominated by Yunnan pine and alpine meadows, and the rain-shadowed Yangtse valley by sparse dryland scrub.

There are more than 200 species of rhododendrons, 37 of them discovered in the area, over 300 species of timber trees, more than 100 species of gentians and primulas, many species of lily and orchid, and some 500 species of medicinal plants. Well known endemic plants include Gingko Gingko biloba and Davidia Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana, four species of the blue poppy Mecanopsis, and two species of Cycas. There are also ancient relict species such as the Yunnan yew Taxus yunannensis, Taiwania flousiana, Magnolia rostrata, Nouelia insignis and Kingdonia uniflora among many others.


caption The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is among the rarer mammals represented in the nominated area. (Source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park)

The area is an outstanding region for animal diversity in China. The fauna is a complex mosaic of palaearctic, oriental and local endemic species adapted to nearly all the inland climates from southern subtropical to frigid, except for desert, though there are hot dry valleys. The area is believed to support over 25% of the world's animal species (and over 50% of China's), many being relict and endangered. In addition the type localities of more than half of them are found there. The records list 173 mammals (81 endemic), 417 birds (22 endemic), 59 reptiles (27 endemic), 36 amphibians (25 endemic), 76 fish (35 endemic) and 27 (8 endemic) papilionid species. There is a concentration of the country's rare and endangered animals within the nominated area. 80 are listed in the Red Book of Chinese animals, 20 of which are considered endangered, 79 animals are listed on the CITES 1997 appendices, 57 are listed in the IUCN Red List of the world's Threatened Animals, 6 of them endangered. Being near the boundaries of the east Asian, southeast Asian and Tibetan biogeographic realms, the nominated area also acts as a corridor where several species from each realm meet and reach their limits of distribution. In addition there are numerous primitive animals that are relics of the ecological past, alongside animals that have recently adapted to colder conditions.

Two-thirds of the fauna occurring in the National Park are either endemic, or are of Himalayan-Hengduan and Hengduan Mountain types. However animals typical of North temperate and old continent temperate zones, the Qinghai -Tibetan plateau/central Asian zone, the East Asian zone, and of the Tropical Africa/tropical Asia-continental temperate type, the Tropical Asia-temperate Asia type and the Tropical Asian type are also represented. The narrow range of the Gaoligong mountains on the border with Myanmar, the Nu and Lancang River valleys and the mountains between and east of them, hold most of the endangered species. The mosaic is enriched by the wide variety of altitude-related species, the greatest density of which are located in the mid-level forested belt of the mountainsides, which rises with elevation on the mountains of the climatically drier east.

Among the rarer mammals represented in the nominated area are: the Tibetan watershrew Nectogale elegans, Chinese shrew-mole Uropsilus soricipes (EN), Scapteryx fusicaudus, Neonetracus sinensis, the endemic Yunnan snubfaced monkey Rhinopithecus bieti (EN), capped leaf monkey Trachypithecus pileatus (VU), stumptail monkey Macaca arctoides (VU), Assamese macaque, M.assamensis (VU), Gaoligong pika Ochotona gaoligongensis, wild dog Cuon alpinus (VU), red panda Ailurus fulgens (EN), Asian black bear Selenarctos thibetanus (VU), smooth-throated otter Lutra perspicillata (VU), leopard Panthera pardus (EN), snow leopard Uncia uncia (EN), clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa (VU), Gongshan muntjac Muntiacus gongshanensis, musk deer Muschus fuscus, takin Budorcus taxicolor (EN), red goral Naemorhedus baileyi (VU) and long-tailed goral N. caudatus (VU).

Among the rarer birds are ferruginous duck Aythya niroca (VU), Chinese grouse Bonasa Tetrastes sewerzowi, chestnut-throated partridge Tetraophasis obscurus, Lady Amherst's pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae, Yunnan white-eared pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon (VU), Blood pheasant Ithaginis cruentes, Sclater's monal pheasant Lophophorus sclateri (VU), Malay peacock pheasant Tragopan blythi (VU), Black-necked crane Grus nigricollis (VU), Ward's trogon Harpactus wardi (VU), Giant nuthatch Sitta magna, Yunnan nuthatch S. yunnanensis (VU), White-speckled laughing thrush Garrulax bieti (VU) and the Brownwinged parrotbill Paradoxornis brunneus.

Cultural Heritage

Of the estimated 278,329 people living within the boundaries of the site, 13 ethnic groups are represented, among them the Tibetan, Yi, Naxi, Bai, Lisu, Pumi, Nu and Dulong peoples. Many of these ethnic groups preserve unique customs and traditions. In many areas of the National Park, villages containing traditional houses and terraced hillside farms well adapted to their environment are maintained. The management plan developed for the nominated area, urges government agencies responsible for management of the site, to develop action plans to preserve the cultures and traditions of such ethnic groups. The government intends to preserve 31 of these traditional villages, to realize their potential for tourism. They are representative of Tibetan, Naxi, Bai, Lisu, Nu, Pumi and Dulong cultures and are close to the scenic zones near Laowo River Gorge and Xiaojiang area.

Local Human Population

An estimated 278,329 people live within the boundaries of Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, 36,512 of which are located core areas of the site. Local jurisdictions include Diqing prefecture in the east, center and north, Nujiang prefecture in the west and south and part of Lijang county in the southeast. Diqing prefecture is composed of Zhongdian, Weixi and Deqin counties and county towns of the same names. While Nujiang prefecture is composed of Gongshan, Fugong, Liuku, and Lanping counties and county towns of the same names. Zhongdian located in the east of the noinated area is the chief admintration center. A few major roads parallel the lie of the land, with occasional links. Zhongdian is located on one of the three main routes from Yunnan to the south (via Myitkina in Myanmar). There is some mining activity in the locality, although this is now illegal on state land. The main agricultural crops grown include maize, barley, walnuts and chestnuts in valley bottom and terraced hillside farms. Above 2,400 m persistent fog in the growing season means that such land has not been settled.

The Government of China has taken positive measures to implement effective management and planned relocation of the population living in the site area. In 2000, Yunnan Provincial Government launched a poverty-alleviation program, relocating some people inhabiting the nominated area to other areas. To date (2003), approximately 36,000 people have been relocated from within the 7 main areas of the nominated area, an estimated 9,000 households. Of these 1,500 households were inhabiting core areas, the remainder in buffer zones. Most households are being relocated from high altitude areas with vulnerable ecosystems in Gaoligong Mountains, Haba Snow Mountain and Red Mountain. The people are mainly relocated to Dali and Simao Prefectures where there is more farmland and higher population carrying capacity. A further 19,500 people will be relocated from the nominated area over the next 5 years, 60% of whom currently inhabit core zones of the site.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

Despite the remoteness, the area's unparalleled scenic, geologic and ecological variety, rare flora and fauna and the cultural diversity of its peoples, has begun to attract tourists, who numbered 188,560 in 2001. Visitor statistics for 1999 - 2001 indicate that overall visitor numbers have been steadily rising for most protected areas that comprise the site. 85 - 95% of visitors are from China, with 5 - 15% originating from overseas.

There are currently over 2,000 hotel beds in Gaoligong National Park area. There are plans to develop driving, riding, trekking and boating activities with service centers in the main six and 17 smaller towns within the National Park. Among the snow-covered mountains, alpine lakes, meadows, streams, waterfalls and immense gorges 188 scenic sites have been identified. They include fantastic rock formations, karst cliffs and caves and terraces of calcareous tufa. Forty scenic sites have been established already, with parking, signposts, information panels, toilets and garbage collection. However, to ensure their preservation, core protected area zones are not open to tourists.

Scientific Research and Facilities

In addition to records dating from Ming and Tang times, 100 Chinese references are quoted in the nomination bibliography, including 24 on geology, 22 on general topology, 22 on flora and forests, 16 on fauna, 8 on birds and 15 on culture and history. Western records are believed to have started from the visit to the area in 1883 of the French missionary Delavay, since when several famous botanists have travelled and collected in the area. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University and the Kunming Institute of Ecology along with many other investigators, including foreign institutions, have made many studies in the region. The China Council for International Cooperation on Environmental Development and the Chinese Biodiversity Working Group have drafted technical reports on nature reserve management, the use of native species, grasslands, invasive and endangered species and traditional medicine.

Conservation Value

This is an area of unparalleled biological diversity, unusually explicit geological and landscape variety and great scenic beauty. As well as the three great rivers there are high peaks, glaciers, hundreds of small glacial lakes and most of the palaearctic temperate biomes from alpine to southern sub-tropical. This is due to the altitudinal range, the area's function as an ecological corridor between north and south and its location near the boundaries of three major bio-geographical realms: east Asia, southeastern Asia and the Tibetan plateau. It has over 6,000 species of higher plants of which a quarter were discovered in the area, and over 25% of the world's animal species, many relict and endangered, the type localities of more than half of which were found in the area.

Conservation Management

Conservation of the area is now under the control of five national, seven provincial and four local administrations, co-ordinated since 1995 by the Three Parallel Rivers Scenic and Cultural Resort Provincial Management Office (PMO). The Construction Department of the Yunnan Provincial Government has developed a Master Plan for 2001-2020 (management plan) for the Three Rivers National Park, which encompasses the nominated World Heritage Area. It is concerned with developing scenic zones for tourism, building the necessary infrastructure during the first five years (2001-2006), then expanding and improving it in phases: first overall planning for the area, then action plans for the scenic zones in general, then in detail, and then of scenic sites. The guiding principles are ecological equilibrium, between man and nature, ecological conservation and conformity to existing laws. The plan is to preserve the ethnic cultures, focusing on certain villages, retaining their biological, cultural and landscape diversity while developing their economic potential in environmentally friendly ways. Staff training and public awareness programs are planned, and programs for monitoring by satellite and aerial photography, and on site of the hydrology, ecology, fires, pollution, forest disease and tourist movements.

By September 2002, conservation plans had been formulated and approved by the Yunnan Provincial Government for 9 of the protected areas that comprise the site. In 6 areas, data collection, inventories and final conservation plans are being completed and approved for implementation in 2003.

An Action Plan for the Three Rivers Protected Area, formulated by the Management Bureau of the site has been approved by the provincial government and submitted to IUCN experts. A Monitoring Plan, Indigenous Peoples Support Plan, Regional Movement Plan and Publicity and Education Plan are expected to be formulated and approved in 2004.

In an attempt to strengthen the conservation and management of core areas of the nominated area, a Resources Conservation and Management Plan of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is planned for formulation in 2004.

The Yunnan Great Rivers Project initiated by the US based Nature Conservancy (TNC), working in conjunction with the provincial government, aims to integrate conservation and sustainable development in the area as a pilot scheme for the country. This development will be outside the sixteen core areas of greatest biodiversity, which remain closed to the public, except for restoration and approved scientific study. The protected areas that include the nature reserves and scenic zones will be open for controlled visitation. The buffer zone is open to a wider range of uses. Commercial logging, which has destroyed much old-growth forest cover, causing erosion and drastic flooding downstream, was recently made illegal on state land. Slopes over 25% are now to be used for forest or grazing only, and people in overstressed areas will be moved. Polluting and high-energy use activities are prohibited.

Management Constraints

Since 1980, government policies have promoted rapid economic growth in the region, stimulating the demand for the resources of the area, especially timber. Since fuelwood cutting in state forests is now illegal, village forests are suffering from unsustainable demand, and illegal logging is still practiced. Hunting is also weakly policed. Collecting, especially for the lucrative wildlife trade, is widespread: alpine plants and rare plants and fungi for medicines, leopard skins, bear, musk deer and cat parts, also for medicinal use, are over-harvested. (It is reported that some 53% of animal products used in China come from nationally and internationally protected species). The conversion of forest to agriculture fragments habitats and can create landslides on slopes. Overstocking of meadows, especially by sheep and goats, has led to overgrazing, and improvement of infrastructure has also meant improved access for all of these activities. Sufficient budgetary support for effective management for many of the country's protected areas has been lacking for many years. In addition, overlapping administrative mandates have tended to cause confusion with regard to management authority and responsibility.


Approximately 3,659 people are engaged in aspects of protected area management within the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas. Working for provincial, prefectural and local organizations and government departments, staff are responsible for utility maintenance, construction, production, tourism and the management of the area's natural resources. The Three Parallel Rivers Scenic and Cultural Resort Provincial Management office in Kunming has a co-ordinating staff of 5, who liase with prefectural authorities. It is anticipated that the staff numbers in this office will increase to 25 by 2004.

Project staff of foreign nature conservation organizations are available to assist with scientific and technical advice, where budgeted. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint initiative of Conservation International, GEF (Global Environment Facility), the government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank, funds projects in biodiversity hotspots and in 2002 studied the Nujiang-Lancangjiang Gorge ecoregion among others with the aim of ensuring its future protection.


Since 1993 the Chinese government at all levels has invested RMB 460 million US$55,577,000 in the Three Rivers National Park. On the national scale, between 2000-2010 the State Forestry Administration has, and plans to continue to, invest billions of dollars in nature conservation and protection through a variety of schemes such as: the National Natural Forest Protection, Grain to Green, National Endangered Plant and Wildlife Protection and Nature Reserve Programmes. Such programs aim to reduce erosion from deforestation, reduce cultivation of sloping lands and to re-train loggers. These activities and their associated pressures especially affected the heavily deforested upper Yangtse watershed.

From 2003 - 2008, the provincial government will input no less than 15 million yuan for the daily management and conservation research of the nominated area.

Since 1995, the World Bank through the GEF has invested financial resources to assist with the improved management of nature reserves in the region, capacity building and training, sustainable forestry techniques and the establishment of timber plantations. GTZ (Germany), the Ford Foundation and several foreign governments are also actively supporting the region with financial aid. WWF has launched an Integrated Conservation and Development project in Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve and between 1997 and 2001 the Nature Conservancy with the Yunnan provincial government invested US$5million in ecoregional conservation in Meilixueshan, Laojunshan and the Nujiang gorge.

IUCN Management Category

  • Gaoligong Mountain Nature Reserve Ia (Strict Nature Reserve)
  • Baimang Snow Mountain Nature Reserve VI (Managed Resource Protected Area)
  • Haba Snow Mountain Reserve VI (Managed Resource Protected Area)
  • Bita Lake Nature Reserve VI (Managed Resource Protected Area)
  • Yunling Nature Reserve (Undesignated)
  • Gongshan Area (Undesignated)
  • Yueliangshan Area (Undesignated)
  • Pianma Area (Undesignated)
  • Meili Snow Mountain Area (Undesignated)
  • Julong Lake Area (Undesignated)
  • Laowoshan Area (Undesignated)
  • Hongshan Area (Undesignated)
  • Qianhu Mountain Scenic Area (Undesignated)
  • Laojun Mountain Scenic Area (Undesignated)
  • Natural World Heritage Site (proposed) Natural Criteria: i,ii,iii,iv.
* Note: IUCN management categories require confirmation with national authorities, there is some uncertainty over their correct interpretation.

Further Reading

  • Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), (2002). Ecosystem Profile. Mountains of Southwest China Hotspot. Conservation International, Washington, U.S.A.
  • Laidler, L.& Laidler,K. (1996). China's Threatened Wildlife. Blandford, London. ISBN: 0713727055
  • Li, W. (1993). Forests of the Himalayan-Hengduan Mountains of China and Strategies for their Sustainable Development. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • MacKinnon, J. (1996). Wild China. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, U.S.A. ISBN: 0262133296
  • Mackinnon, J., et al. (1996). A Biodiversity Review of China. WWF, Hong Kong.
  • National Ministry of Construction, (2001). Three Parallel Rivers National Park. Nomination report for the World Heritage Convention. Beijing.196 pp. [Contains 8 maps, detailed species lists and a bibliography of 140 references]
  • Stattersfield, A. et al. (1998). Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 1560985747
  • Wu, Zhengyi and the Editorial Board of the Kunming Institute of Ecology. (1995). Vegetation Ecological Landscapes of Yunnan. Forestry Press of China, Beijing. ISBN: 7503811722
  • Yunnan Provincial Department of Construction, (2001). General Management Plan for Three Parallel Rivers National Park. Report to the World Heritage Convention. Kunming. 50pp + map.
  • Yunnan Management Bureau of Three Parallel Rivers National Park. (2003). Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area Nomination for World Natural Heritage Status - Additional Information. Yunnan Province, China. 22pp. [Also available on CD-ROM].
  • Zhao, J. (Ed.), (1990). The Natural History of China. McGraw Hill Publishing Company, New York. ISBN: 0070107521

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, China. Retrieved from


To add a comment, please Log In.