Roaring machines were turned off at the construction site of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Monday night to make way for 500 migrating Tibetan antelope, a rare species on the verge of extinction.
"It will take 10 days for all the 40,000 female and baby Tibetan antelopes to cross the construction site. We'll halt normal building work for three hours each night during the period," said Yu Shaoshui, an official in charge of railway construction on the Golmud section.
Every June, female Tibetan antelopes migrate north in large numbers to give birth to their young along the banks of Zhounai and Taiyang lakes in the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve. They then make the return trip south with the baby antelopes in about a month.
Zoologists explain that the thick-haired animals choose the northern region for breeding because they want a cool place with rich freshwater ponds and lush grasses to give birth in summer.
When 20,000 female antelopes ran across the site of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway heading for their breeding site in June this year, railway builders were ordered to stop work for five consecutive nights.
"We were excited to see Tibetan antelopes passing over the railway line before our eyes. As railway builders, we always keep environmental protection in mind," said Liu Jinlu, a railway worker.
Tibetan antelope, an endangered species at the top of China's protection list, is native to the grasslands in and around Qinghai Province, and Xinjiang Uygur and Tibetan Autonomous Regions and normally lives up in the mountains between 3,700 and 5,500 meters high.
The animal is killed illegally to make shawls, called shahtoosh, which can sell for as much as 11,000 US dollars each on the world market. The rampant killing has led to a drastic decline in their numbers, from several million a century ago to 50,000 now. The number is declining at an annual rate of 20,000.
To protect this endangered species from extinction, the Chinese government has set up three natures reserves on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau including one at Hoh Xil, launched a series of campaigns against poachers in the last few years and banned the Tibetan antelope trade.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest of its kind under construction in the world, is to pass through the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, one of the antelope's breeding grounds. As the earth on the plateau is frozen during the bitter winter, railway construction is possible only in the April-November period.
"Despite a tight project schedule, we are duty-bound to make way for the antelope, as highland wildlife is mankind's friend," Yu Shaoshui said.
"We did our best to reduce the noise of machines to avoid disturbing the antelope and other kinds of wildlife in the region," he added.
The railway department is considering building an animal tunnel to ensure antelope and other species can pass over the railway safely after the line opens to traffic.
(Xinhua News Agency August 8, 2002)