On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, more than 75 attendees gathered over livestream for the webinar, “Pandas to Pangolins: Reflection on China’s Biodiversity Conservation.” Conservationist Jim Harkness took the audience through 40 years of conservation efforts in China, while sharing stories from his own experience working with environmental organizations.

Over the past 40 years, China has experienced explosive economic growth and social change, which have come at a great cost to the environment. At the same time, passionate scientists, conservationists, and others in China have won significant victories in restoring endangered species and securing protected land for wildlife.

Harkness’s combined interest in China and ornithology led him to volunteer for the International Crane Foundation, translating bird lists to Chinese. Since then, his career has followed a fascinating path working with conservation organizations in China. In 1998, Harkness became the China Country Representative for the World Wildlife Fund. This period was the start of what Harkness calls a “Golden Age” of environmental conservation. A new generation of idealistic young Chinese scholars emerged, dedicated to expanding conservation efforts. At the same time, China’s growing middle class led to the creation of a new civil society with environmental concerns. Currently, 18% of China’s territory is under protected status, with 2,750 nature reserves in the country. Nonetheless, ongoing environmental challenges persist that will require continued dedication and cooperation.

In the Q&A session, Harkness answered questions from attendees on topics such as the political space for NGOs in China, U.S.-China cooperation on environmental issues, and resources for further learning.

Watch a recording of the webinar


About the Speaker

Jim HarknessJim Harkness' career as a conservationist in China began with a cloak and dagger handoff of documents at the Beijing Museum of Natural History in 1981. He has worked in China as a researcher with the International Crane Foundation, a consultant to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, a program officer for the Ford Foundation, and Chief Representative for the World Wildlife Fund, and is currently the China Country Director for the National Geographic Society.