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Amur-Heilong Ecoregion

The Amur-Heilong is the biggest river in Northeast Asia and one of the biggest free-flowing rivers of the world. 

Running almost 5,000 kilometres in length, the Amur ranks among the ten longest rivers in the world and has the tenth biggest watershed of nearly two million square kilometers. It flows through China, Mongolia and Russia and originates from two sources – one in the north and one in the south, the Onon River in Mongolia and the Argun River in China, respectively.

Thanks to its diverse terrains and intact forests, the Amur-Heilong Ecoregion Complex (AHEC) is home to a vast range of biodiversity. Encompassing 15 terrestrial ecosystems, it holds four of WWF’s 200 Global Ecoregions, namely the unbroken East Siberian Taiga, the mixed broadleaf-coniferous forests of the Russian Far East and the Daurian steppe, as well as one freshwater site of global significance. Home to some 2,800 plant and 500 animal species, it serves as key habitat and last breeding grounds for many critically endangered wildlife.

For a long time the main stem of the Amur River has been one of the world’s longest undammed rivers. Governed by policies which place little importance to the ecosystem functions and goods provided by free-flowing rivers, today, water management in the Amur-Heilong River basin is largely unsustainable in all three basin countries.

Flood-related hazards are among the weather-driven disasters which bring the most devastating impacts to the population and economy. As climate change exacerbates, alternating weather patterns are also shaping wildlife health and migration routes.

In addition, this fragile ecosystem is imperiled by local and international demand for timber, energy and animal products. As population demographics and density shift and grow along with industrial developments and technological advances, pressure on ecosystems is rapidly increasing. Over time, conversion of natural wetlands, river valleys and forests to farms are leading to the loss of habitats and biodiversity across the landscape. First starting at floodplains along the rivers, these agricultural developments have claimed most of the AHEC’s biologically productive areas which serve as home to a rich amount of wildlife species.

Low social and economic status in the region is also further fuelling the unsustainable hunting, collection and trade of wildlife resources, driving many species towards decline. While poaching has declined in recent years, owing largely to  enforcement efforts, enthusiasm for Traditional Chinese and Asian Medicine still feeds a booming wildlife trade in products such as bear gall bladder, tiger paw and ginseng. The Amur leopard and tiger are at risk from poaching for their coats, as well as for their bones and other parts, which are also seen as a status symbol.


What WWF is doing

In order to protect this pristine landscape and its wildlife, we are working with partners in:

  • Creating frameworks that support good governance and that support recognition of national and transboundary natural capital values
  • Improving political, institutional and public support with sufficient financing for conservation and sustainable management of AHEC flagship species and their habitats
  • Developing a protected area network (Econet-Green Belt) for the conservation of critical ecosystems and habitats along the Amur river
  • Supporting sustainable forest use and legality of timber trade through regulatory initiatives and private sector engagement
  • Maintaining ecosystem services of the Amur basin through climate-smart Integrated River Basin Management and coordinated wetland conservation and management
  • Ensuring support for the safeguarding of natural capital among high-footprint sectors
  • Ensuring support of law enforcement to counter major wildlife and forest crimes