Sanjiangyuan (Three Rivers’ Headwaters) National Nature Reserve (SNNR)

The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve is the second largest nature reserve in the world, as well as the highest and most extensive wetland protected area in the world. It has a population of approximately 200,000 people living within its 152,300 km2 – a land area larger than England and Wales combined. The nature reserve comprises the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers. Nearly 600 million people who live downstream depend on the proper functioning – and hence the long-term protection – of these rivers for their livelihood.

According to the Director of the State Forestry Administration, Mr Wang Zhibao, the establishment of the nature reserve aims to protect the Tibetan Plateau ecosystem, with an emphasis on alpine swamp meadow and natural habitat of the unique wildlife in the region, and to promote sustainable economic development in the region.

The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve has 18 conservation areas, each with a core zone, a buffer zone and an experimental zone. In the central core zones, measures are taken to protect endangered wildlife. Surrounding the core zones are buffer zones designed to promote conservation, yet still available to local herders for limited grazing of sheep and cattle. Outside these, multiple-use experimental zones are intended for scientific investigations and for tourism development. The total areas of core zone, buffer zone and experimental zone amount to 31,200 km2, 39,200 km2 and 81,900 km2 respectively (i.e., 20%, 26% and 54% of the nature reserve’s total area). The 18 conservation areas also focus on three broad ecological categories: 8 wetland, 3 wildlife and 7 forest or shrubland priority areas.

The Headwaters of the Three Rivers (Sanjiangyuan) refers to the source area of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong Rivers, all located in southern Qinghai Province. The Yangtze originates at Geladandong Snow Mountain in the Banyakala mountain range. The river’s length in the province is about 1,200 km , approximately 19% of its total length. Upper tributaries include the Tuotuohe, Qumahe, Buqu and Dangqu branches, which jointly account for around one-quarter of the river’s total runoff. The Yellow originates at Beiligezigeya Snow Mountain. The river’s length in the province is nearly 2,000 km long, approximately 36% of its total length. Duoqu and Riqu are the main tributaries of the upper Yellow River. Finally, the Mekong originates from at Guozongmucha Snow Mountain. The river’s length in the province is around 450 km, approximately 10% of its total length.

Biodiversity Conservation Planning Meeting, October 2005

In pursuance of its goal to develop a regional development project with joint emphasis on natural resource management and sustainable community development in the Sanjiangyuan region, Plateau Perspectives worked together with several local partners to organize a Biodiversity Conservation Planning Meeting in October 2005 The meeting was co-hosted by Plateau Perspectives together with the Upper Yangtze Organization, the Government of Zhiduo County and the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve Management Bureau. A summary of this strategic meeting can be downloaded, in both English and Chinese, on the sites Download page.

Additional Resources

Wikipedia’s article on SNNR Three Rivers’ Headwater Natural Reserve Area website SNNR images on Yahoo Images

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