Beijing-based philanthropist He Qiaonv has announced a ten-year, $20 million commitment to Panthera and WildCRU, Oxford University's conservation research unit, the initial down payment on her pledge to spend $1.5 billion in support of wildlife conservation.
The investment from the Beijing Qiaonv Foundation will support efforts to protect Chinese snow leopards and other big cats in China and around the world — a significant commitment to a cause that has received less attention in Asia than it has in other regions. In partnership with Panthera and WildCRU, BQF will create and staff two protected snow leopard reserves in China that will be scaled over time while simultaneously underwriting a wildlife management training program for Chinese conservationists. The next step, He told Bloomberg, will be to build urban classrooms where "hundreds of millions of people can visit and learn" about conservation.
A landscape planner, founder and chair of Beijing Orient Landscape Co., and now one of the richest women in China, He told Bloomberg that she had long dreamed of her company building a hundred of the most beautiful parks across her country. Founded in 2012, the foundation is working to establish important conservation areas in China, identify native species in the greatest need of protection, and lobby the Chinese government, partner with international organizations, and support domestic NGOs to address threats to global biodiversity and slow carbon dioxide emissions.
"Things [in China] are changing under the global radar," said Nicole Mollo, executive director of environmental philanthropy at Panthera founder Tom Kaplan's Recanati-Kaplan Foundation. "They have the will and frankly they have the resources — what they are missing is a middle tier of expertise. They don't know what it means to manage a protected area, to train a ranger, or to work with communities and livestock."
With what may be the largest-ever personal philanthropic commitment to wildlife conservation, "He represents a new wave of self-made Chinese philanthropists unafraid to spend," Bloomberg notes, while the country itself is taking steps to change its reputation as the "scourge of the elephant and tiger." Private conservation work in China requires government collaboration, and under President Xi Jinping, the government has moved to ban the illegal ivory trade, proposed to ban the production of gasoline-powered cars, and created the country's first tiger and Amur leopard reserve — one of up to fifty new conservation zones promised by 2020.
"The public awareness of environmental protection is gradually increasing in China," said He, who described the collaboration of many of China's ultra-rich with their government on environmental issues as a turning point for the country. Indeed, the $20 million commitment to Panthera may change the face of big cat conservation forever, said Kaplan. "One day this event may be seen as a watershed."
(Photo credit: Greg Hume)