Name: Arya Yue
Class Year: 2022
Hometown: Tai’An, Shandong, China
Internship Organization: Biodiversity Lab at Duke Kunshan University
Job Title: Intern
Location: Southwestern China
To learn about practical wildlife conservation and find the specific aspects that I am more interested in, I applied for an internship with Dr. Binbin Li in her Biodiversity Lab. My internship consists of three parts: two weeks of community survey in Sichuan to investigate the effect of livestock grazing on giant panda habitats, two weeks of vegetation survey in Yunnan to help with a PhD candidate’s project proposal, and four weeks of online work to write a report about job satisfaction levels of natural reserve rangers. I love the variety in my work and have made many meaningful connections throughout the whole internship experience.
My favorite part of this internship is my encounter with nature and wildlife. Yunnan Province has a high level of biodiversity due to its subtropical climate, and Dr. Li is an expert bird watcher and photographer. We spotted many rare, colorful birds along the way, including three hornbills in a giant fruiting tree. In the dense forest of Ailao mountains, we learned about many interesting plants and fungi with the guidance of the wildlife station manager. Led by a local wild fungi trader, we were lucky to see a group of black-crested gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) in the natural reserve. They are very endangered and there are only around 700 of them in the wild. We also did star gazing at clear nights, and I learned to recognize many constellations.
Something that I did not expect was the interdisciplinary knowledge that I was able to learn when I was conducting community surveys in Sichuan. I enjoyed talking to villagers and finding out what their lives were like, and at the same time I was intrigued by many social and anthropological questions that arose during the investigation. I saw the positive effects of the Chinese government’s anti-poverty drive, but also realized that some of the policies encouraged free-range livestock grazing near and inside natural reserves. I heard about conflicts between the local community and the local conservation department at other places from the lab’s research assistant. The climate grows high-quality potatoes, but the villagers use them to feed pigs instead of branding the potatoes for sale, although pork price tends to be low and fluctuates from year to year. While old people stay at home, young men who can speak Mandarin work in the cities, only returning home to their wives and children for a few weeks every year. I enjoyed learning about these problems and discussing with my fellow interns and volunteers who are from all walks of life. From this experience, I learned that conservation is more about people and development than about animals and plants.
Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.