China: Proposed massive golf course developments threaten NP, rainforests on Hainan Island

The jungles of the Diaolou Mountains do not, at first sight, appear a very inviting location for a golf resort. Leeches and spiders drop through the Jeep windows as we jolt along an overgrown logger's track to reach this remote corner of Hainan, the tropical island that marks the south-eastern extremity of China.

On one side lies a pristine tropical rainforest with 1,000-year-old trees; on the other, a thick tangle of bamboo, cedar and palm has reclaimed an abandoned betel nut plantation.

Until now, this national park has been a rare conservation success story in China. Clouded leopards and black gibbons are among the 300 endangered species listed in this sanctuary.

But while the jungle has been allowed to grow back, the park's managers have been forced to watch with frustration as neighbouring communities cash in on one of the biggest, fastest surges in property prices in the world.

The value of land in Hainan has increased by between 50% and 100% since the start of the year, boosted by a government drive to turn the island into an upscale tourist resort.

For the park's managers, the temptation is now too great to resist. "We are sitting on a goldmine," says Zhong Guanghao, the deputy director of the forest bureau, as he exhales a plume of cigarette smoke. "Within five years, we'll have at least two five-star hotels, dozens of town houses, a conference centre and a 36-hole golf club."

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