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Adam Minter

China Has the Right Idea About Protecting Species

A Q&A with Annah Lake Zhu, assistant professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and author of a new book on conservation, about how Western nations should be more open to China’s approach to protecting endangered plants and animals.

Propagation is the best conservation.

Propagation is the best conservation.

Photographer: Maja Hitij/Getty Images Europe

The world's most trafficked endangered species by monetary value isn't an elephant or a rhino. It's rosewood, a group of slow-growing tropical hardwoods prized for their use in traditional Chinese arts and crafts and furniture. Beds made from rosewood have sold for over $1 million; the overall Chinese market is worth as much as $26 billion.

As valuations spiral upward, tropical forests are felled. Traditional conservation measures, such as protected areas and trade restrictions , have failed to quell the demand or the logging.  In her provocative new book,  Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and the Rise of Global China, Annah Lake Zhu, assistant professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, argues that a Chinese approach that prioritizes reforestation and using nature sustainably is more effective. It's not a new idea: Endangered pandas, tigers and bears have been cultivated in China for years (though not without controversy). More recently, farmers have developed sustainable rosewood plantations that co-exist with other, faster growing crops like tea and honey in southern China. The model is now being exported to Southeast Asia and tropical regions of Africa.