China has rich biodiversity, boasting the world's largest number of bird species and gymnosperm varieties. But China's biodiversity is faced with a critical situation: 15 to 20 percent of higher plant varieties are endangered, threatening the existence of 40,000 species of organisms related with them.
As one of the earliest contracting countries to the Convention on Biological Diversity, China has been active in international affairs concerning the Convention and vocal on important issues related to biodiversity. China is also one of the few countries to complete the Convention's action plans. The China Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation, implemented in 1994, provided rules and regulations for many eco-environmental protection activities. According to the Law on the Protection of Wildlife, the highest punishment for crimes of damaging wildlife resources is the death penalty.
Emphasizing effective protection of biological resources, government departments have built and commissioned facilities for preserving genetic resources. In January 2003, the Chinese Academy of Sciences initiated a project to save endangered plants; its aims are to increase plant varieties under the protection of its 12 affiliated botanic gardens from 13,000 to 21,000 within 15 years, and to build a botanic garden covering a total area of 458 sq km, the world's largest. The project involves over 300 million yuan investment into collection of rare and endangered plants, and the building of gene banks, with the Qinling Mountains, Wuhan, Xishuangbanna and Beijing as the centers.
To help save endangered wildlife, 250 wildlife breeding centers have been established throughout the country, and special projects conducted to protect seven species, including the giant panda and red ibis. Giant panda numbers have risen from 1,100 to over 1,500 and their conditions continued to improve. The red ibis population has increased from seven to over 560, relieving that bird's endangered situation. The population of artificially bred Chinese alligators is nearly 10,000. The population of Eld's deer has increased from 26 to more than 800. The population of relic gulls has increased from 2,000 to more than 10,000. Sightings of tigers, rarely seen in recent times, have been reported in northeastern, eastern and southern parts of China. In the field of freshwater dolphin studies, China's scientific research on white-flag dolphins leads the world and research on artificial breeding of white-flag dolphins has accelerated. The Tibetan antelope population, which had shrunk sharply because of poaching, has now stabilized at around 70,000 thanks to persistent combat against poaching, in cooperation with many international animal protection organizations.
In August 2003, with the approval of the State Council, the State Environmental Protection Administration and 16 relevant departments established the Joint Meeting of Biological Species Resources Protection to coordinate and strengthen the protection work of the biological species resources; at the same time, the National Expert Commission on the Protection of Biological Species Resources composed of 17 experts was formed.