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Extremely Endangered Wildlife on Qinghai Lake
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On the banks of the Qinghai Lake, China's first and the world's second largest saltwater lake, lives a herd of lovely gazelles -- Przewalski's gazelles (Procapra Przewalskii). They are much more endangered than China's state treasure, the giant panda, and the world-concerned Tibetan antelope. At present, only some 150 Przewalski's gazelles are left on the world.


Dong Jiansheng, vice director of the Qinghai Provincial Wildlife Administration, said that Przewalski's gazelle has been put on the IUCN Red List in 1996 and 1998 as CR species (critical rare). On learning about the current situation of Przewalski's gazelles, Dr. David Mallon, chair of the Antelope Specialist Group of Species Survival Commission (SSC) of The World Conservation Union (IUCN), said, "Przewalski's gazelle is the world's most endangered animals with hoofs."


Dong Jiansheng said that conservation of the Przewalski's gazelle is confronted with more and more difficulties. This rare species will extinct in the near future unless effective protective measures are taken immediately.


Przewalski's gazelle, peculiar to China, was first found by a Russia naturalist, Przewalski, on the grassland of China's Inner Mongolia in 1875, hence the name of the gazelle.


In the past, Przewalski's gazelles could be seen galloping across the grassland beside the Qinghai Lake in big herds. However, due to its own weak viability and the increasingly degrading eco-environment, the animal has narrowed their living areas remarkably. At present, only several isolated minor groups can be found in the west, east and north of the Qinghai Lake, according to Zhang Dehai, head of the Administrative Bureau of the Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve.


Wolves' preying also threatens Przewalski's gazelles' survival. Experts who were doing field investigation once found eight Przewalski's gazelles killed by wolves in one month.


What causes the most critical threat for the species is the imbalance between the male and female population, which makes its propagation difficult. As the animals live in separated herds, inbreeding within the same group is seriously deteriorating its gene.


"Now, tourists can no longer spot any Przewalski's gazelle around the Qinghai Lake," said Guo Fuqing, a local tour guide.


Jiang Zhigang, chief researcher of the Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) who leads the Przewalski's gazelle research group, said extinction of a macro-mammal species is regarded as a big event in the history of zoological species conservation. The gene bank of the Przewalski's gazelle would disappear from the world forever if the species became extinct before they could conduct thorough studies on its gene, evolution and genetic factor. "It would be a real pity not only for China but also for the whole world if we lose the Przewalski's gazelle forever," he said.


According to Jiang, measures needed to be taken immediately include establishing the Przewalski's gazelle reserve and at the same time cultivating an artificially-bred population which will be eventually released back to their natural habitat.


The Regulation on Ecological Environmental Protection of the Qinghai Lake Valley, China's first regulatory document on eco-environmental protection of a whole water system, came into force on August 1, 2003. It is expected to play a great role in conserving Przewalski's gazelles and other endangered wildlife species inhabiting around the lake.


(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, August 7, 2003)


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