Add Himalaya’s Grand Canyon to China’s first national parks

Mount Namjagbarwa and the Yarlung Zangbo River in the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon National Park

The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in the eastern Himalayas is the deepest canyon in the world, and one of the longest.Credit: Dong Lei/NaturePL

As China sets about designating its first national parks, we propose that the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in the eastern Himalayas on the Brahmaputra River, close to the Indian border, should be included. The canyon’s unique biodiversity is currently under threat from tourism, climate change and construction projects that could include several hydroelectric dams.

The canyon is the deepest and one of the longest in the world. It runs through sacred Tibetan land and is a biodiversity hotspot (L. Deng et al. Sci. Silvae Sin. 47, 1–6; 2011), accounting for 65% of the vascular plants and 50% of the mammals found on the Tibetan Plateau. Species include the white-cheeked macaque (Macaca leucogenys), which was first described scientifically as recently as 2015 (C. Li et al. Am. J. Primatol. 77, 753–766; 2015).

We consider that the region would benefit from an evaluation of the environmental costs of further development, from a land-management plan and from stronger cross-border collaboration. Protecting the site by making it a national park would demonstrate China’s commitment to conservation targets, which will be discussed at the next United Nations’ biodiversity conference, to be held in Kunming, China, in October. In our view, the park should encompass an area of about 40,000 square kilometres to take in the region’s main watersheds.

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