My name is Jocelyn Durkay and I’m a community track student at GSSW- and I have the amazing opportunity this summer to attend a GSSW internship in China with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell. As a participant in Professor Sarah Bexell’s International Social Development course (co-facilitated by PhD student Eric DesMarais) I had the opportunity to learn of her work at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding. Professor’s Bexell’s expertise is wildlife conservation but she also focuses on education. Conservation education is vital because if residents near a protected area or urban residents (in Chengdu or in the United States) do not know their role in wildlife and habitat loss, they cannot mitigate or prevent further loss. Her course also gave me the opportunity to design a development project on conservation and community development training for staff in Myanmar’s protected areas.
This research opportunity aligned with my first internship experience in China: shortly after my arrival, I joined Prof. Bexell in Beijing for Red Panda Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA), a red panda conservation planning meeting. Red pandas are smaller than giant pandas, resembling more of a raccoon than a panda although they share the same habitat and food (see attached picture). I was able to observe two sessions of the event, which involved 26 individuals from China, several Western nations, and Myanmar. (Myanmar and the Chinese Yunnan province share red panda habitats.) After designing a vision for red panda conservation, the group broke into two focus groups to explore red panda population dynamics and threats to the population.
I attended the threat breakout group sessions, which identified bamboo collection practices, poaching, road and dam construction, mining, ecotourism, and timbering as leading sources for population loss. Attending these sessions was helpful in learning the direct implications of rapid industrial development on ecosystems and animals. I found myself also examining the United States’ role in this habitat and wildlife loss, as China produces so many of the products that our country consumes. Even though I live far from China, my lifestyle and consumption has a direct impact on Chinese ecosystems. Not only am I responsible for loss that has already occurred but by continuing to live the way I do now, I am responsible for future loss that will result as the country works to satisfy global product demands. I have already seen this in person through my initial visit to Chengdu, the industrial capital of southwest China, where visibility is measured in hundreds of feet, not miles, due to smog and pollution. (In fact the city is constantly congested, placing into perspective the smog cloud I have seen over Denver when returning from the front range.) Relatively young buildings are stained by pollution and the rain is acidic. This is a city of 14 million people and I can only imagine the health consequences this generates for residents.
On a more positive note, I also had the opportunity to explore several areas of Beijing. Our hotel was located near the 2008 Summer Olympic complex. I visited Tian’namen Square, the Forbidden City, the summer palace, the Great Wall, and one of the Ming dynasty tombs. While these experiences were breathtaking and enjoyable, they also provided me with historical knowledge and an understanding of current cultural perspectives. For example, despite the large number of foreign tourists visiting the Great Wall many Chinese citizens still have limited contact with foreigners. This is especially true as foreign visitors were restricted during the Community Revolution and subsequent years. I had Chinese tourists ask to take their picture with me, including entire families, which was a very surprising experience.
I am excited to experience what this internship has to offer. Next week I will be visiting a rural area outside Chengdu where 8 families have began an organic farming cooperative to attain greater control over their food and health!