Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tibetan Herders Lead Environmental Effort to Protect Tibet's Biodiversity

A Tibetan antelope in the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve

It has been recently reported that Tibetan herders are leading an environmental effort in protecting their local grasslands and biodiversity thanks to support from environmental groups and the central government. In the Qinghai Province, families from the Tsochi village have sacrificed parts of their grazing land and removed fences to make more space for wild animals including the kiang, Tibetan antelope, and wild yak. This village is located in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Three-River-Source Nature Reserve. The nature reserve, which stands at an average altitude of over 4,000 feet above sea level, covers an area of 360,000 square kilometers and is named for being the main source of the Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers. According to the village head Razi Karma, 58 families have resettled in the Qumarleb County and the city of Golmud. He also added that about 140 families have stayed, living in tents on the pasture in summer and new government-subsidized houses in winter.

As part of the effort, the local nomads were urged to limit grazing land in order to protect pastures from degradation. Since late 2011, the central government has granted them ninety yuan for every hectare they do not use. At that time, the State Council issued a law designed to promote sustainable development in herding areas. Also, since 2004, more than 200 Tsochi villagers joined a volunteer group called Friends of the Wild Yak, which gives monitoring data of wild animals four times a year. The villagers' patrolled their village regularly, which helped prevent illegal poaching. However, the two biggest threats the villagers feared the most were construction and mining projects. Several reports of illegal coal and gold mining filed by the villagers to the authorities in the past forced miners to pay their fines and leave. Razi Karma stated that the reason behind this major change was giving herders the right to intervene and protect their land, so that they are empowered to refrain the people coming from illegal construction, hunting, and mining. Karma further added that the villagers had no access to their major source of cash income: caterpillar fungus. Therefore, they had to rely on livestock products such as wool and meat in order to make their living. Unfortunately, this source of income is under threat due to climate change and predation by wildlife. In the past, the most drastic weather conditions resulted in catastrophes such as drying of rivers, severe winters, and extremely hot summers which caused income fluctuations to which villagers had to adapt to. In addition to that, predators such as brown bears and wolves would raid settlements, attacking yaks, goats, and horses. Although Karma keeps track of livestock losses, there is no solution despite a two million yuan compensation paid to 1,454 families in Lhasa's Damxung County early this year by the State Forestry Administration.
A wild yak

I'm very proud to see what the local people in Tibet are doing, in order to help their wildlife flourish. However, at the same time, I feel that the issue of climate change is still at large. Not has it affected the wildlife, but also the livelihood of these people. This is why I believe it is extremely crucial for the governments of Tibet and China to team up with these people, along with various environmental groups in order to take a direct stand against the threat of climate change. The threats caused by illegal poaching and mining for minerals may have been taken care of in the past, but they are never far from carrying out their illicit and harmful activities in the region. Not only do they affect the biodiversity, but also contribute to climate change and global warming resulting in further environmental catastrophes. In addition to that, there should also be reduction and limit of tourist visits in the region as put by Dawa Tsering of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences. Furthermore, measures to help the people's livelihood should also be implemented. This includes providing them with livestock guardian dogs to protect their livestock from predators. This method was notably used earlier by the Catalonian government, and should also be used by governments in other parts of the world where livestock predation is a common occurrence.
A Tibetan brown bear

One particular method that is currently in talks is an ecotourism project. This idea came up by Andreas Gruschke, a scholar from Germany's Leipzig University who has been offered a professorship at Sichuan University and will begin more discussions in China about how the locals will benefit from it. He further added that another project under consideration is waste disposal measures, especially in rural areas where communities are facing piles of waste and should work together with the administration to come up with a solution. One organization called the Three-River-Source Environmental Protection Association is working on household garbage collection and medical waste disposal. According to the association's accountant Liu Ying, a team of villagers is in charge of collecting garbage and sending it to a large pit near a river. However, she also added that medical waste is difficult to collect since medical centers are far away and some doctors are worried about recycling syringes because contaminated supplies could be reused and cause tremendous harm to patients. In order to prevent this, the association will invite Taiwanese doctors to train rural healthcare providers and probably come up with a standard practice on how to collect medical waste. Overall, I think Tibet is on the verge of helping save, protect, and preserve its biodiversity. However, the issue of climate change still looms large and a great deal of action needs to be undertaken to combat this ongoing environmental threat.

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