Throughout its 100-year history, US National Parks have served as a model for other countries trying to set up their own networks of protected spaces.

Now China is quietly planning its own national parks system.

And, like Costa Rica and India before them, the Chinese are looking toward America.

“They've visited several locations in the US, and they're basically trying to get ideas on how US parks are managed,” said Beijing-based science journalist Kathleen McLaughlin.

China currently has what McLaughlin called in an article for Science magazine a “mishmash of national reserves, semi-protected forests and provincial parks.”

In 2013, China signaled an intention to develop a national park system in a Communist Party planning document.

About two dozen national parks are planned, ranging in size from small urban parks like the National Mall in Washington, DC, to a park in northeastern China more than twice the size of Yellowstone aimed at protecting Siberian tigers and leopards.

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“They’re really trying to protect the natural state of the forest and get the forest to come back,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin says tiger experts estimate that if the government protects the land it has set out to, it could eventually create habitat for up to 150 Siberian tigers.

Three other parks mentioned by state media so far will aim to protect Asian elephants, giant pandas and Tibetan antelopes, McLaughlin said.

“China was catching up economically for the past 30 years in so many ways that national parks were a luxury that it didn’t have the time or the money to plan,” McLaughlin said, “and now they finally do, and they’ve recognized the importance of setting aside wild spaces.” 

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI