Conservation efforts have revived the population of endangered species

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A worker at the Sonam Dargye  protection station in the Hoh Xil National Reserve in Qinghai Province, northwest China, feeds Tibetan  antelope calves on December 7, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

At the Sonam Dargye protection station in the Hoh Xil National Reserve in Qinghai Province, northwest China, the staff has been babysitting an unusual group of kids for more than five months. These are baby Tibetan antelopes that have been rescued from injuries and other mishaps.

The lake at Hoh Xil has been dubbed the delivery room of Tibetan antelopes. Every year from May to July, pregnant females from the Sanjiangyuan region in Qinghai, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, also in the northwest, and Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China make the long journey there to give birth. When they return with the calves, some of the babies fall behind and get separated from the herd. This year, the rangers at the station saved eight such abandoned calves.

"We saved this one in July," said Caisuojia, a worker at the station, pointing to a 5-month-old. "It was injured in a traffic accident. When I rushed to the site, it seemed to be dying. The volunteers at the station operated on it and saved its life."

Caisuojia told China News Service he is responsible for feeding the calves, cleaning their pens and examining them. The station has 13 caretakers. Every morning, they prepare milk for the antelopes. "Every milk bottle has to be disinfected with hot water and dried. We have to first test the temperature of the milk by squeezing a few drops on the back of our hands," he said.

After the eight antelopes turn 2 years old, they will be trained to live in the wild and finally returned to nature.

"Every year when we release them, we feel very sad, especially when they turn around to look at us. However we tell ourselves that since the kids have grown up, we the parents have to bid them goodbye," he said.

Established in 1997, the station has saved over 300 Tibetan antelopes. The number of the animals in Hoh Xil has increased from fewer than 20,000 in the 1980s to over 70,000.

Thanks to the protection efforts, China has more than 300,000 wild Tibetan antelopes at present, according to data released by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) on January 4.

The population of other endangered wild species has also seen stable growth in the past five years, according to the administration. Nature reserves have been set up to protect endangered wild species. Today, nature reserves cover 18 percent of China's land area and protect 90 percent of flora species and 85 percent of protected wildlife species.

Milu revival

In addition to protecting endangered species in their natural habitat, artificial breeding is also adopted to revive them. Statistics from the NFGA show that the artificially bred population of over 300 endangered wild animal species has been stabilized in the past five years. The number of artificially bred and wild Crested Ibis, a bird known as the oriental gem, has surpassed 4,000; and that of wild Asian elephants has increased to 300.

Some artificially bred endangered animals have been released in the wild. In November 2020, a batch of 25 milu deer, also known as Pere David's deer, were released in the Dafeng Milu Deer National Nature Reserve in Dafeng, Jiangsu Province in east China. This was the eighth time the reserve had released the milu into the wild.

The deer, with a horse's face, a donkey's tail, cow's hooves and stag's antlers, is native to China. However, overhunting and habitat loss led to its near extinction.

Before its extinction in China in the early 20th century, Père David, a French missionary, introduced this species into France in 1866. Later, a few more milu were transported to other European countries. However, the species didn't acclimatize well in Europe until British duke Herbrand Russell raised 18 at his family seat Woburn Abbey in England in 1898.

After its founding in 1985, the Beijing Milu Ecological Research Center began working to bring the milu back home from abroad. From 1985 to 1987, 38 milu were brought back to the Nanhaizi Milu Park in Beijing's Daxing District.

After over 30 years of efforts, now there are over 8,000 milu in China, most of which live in four nature reserves.

In 1986, the Dafeng Milu National Nature Reserve was founded in Jiangsu, and another 39 milu were brought back there from England. In Dafeng, their number has increased from 39 to 5,681. The reserve is the largest milu-raising center with the richest gene database.

From 1993 to 2002, 94 milu were introduced in the Tianezhou Nature Reserve in Shishou, Hubei Province in central China.

Zhou Chengzhi, Deputy Director of the milu management and protection department of the reserve, joined it in 2008. That year, the reserve suffered heavy snow. It covered the grassland and the milu couldn't find food. The reserve had to buy Chinese cabbages and carrots to feed them.

Zhou told Wuhan-based Changjiang Daily to encourage the milu's wild habits, they feed them only when extreme weather makes it difficult for the deer to find food.

After years of effort, the number of the deer at the reserve has increased to over 1,100. However, Zhou always has his heart in his mouth because in 2010 scores of the calves died. According to experts' analyses, they died because their population exceeded the maximum capacity of the reserve and also because of an epidemic caused by a bacterium commonly found in soil, water, dust and sewage.

The flood in 2020 also affected their habitat and food. For over two months, a large part of the reserve was submerged and the plants they graze on died. Would the animals have enough to eat this winter? Or would they have to be given food? That remains a grave concern for Zhou. He and his colleagues are monitoring the herd's conditions every day.

There are 15 staff members at the reserve, who regard it as their home. Cai Jiaqi, who is responsible for publicity and education at the reserve, told Changjiang Daily that Tianezhou has natural advantages for a milu nature reserve because of its ample grass and water. According to ancient texts, the area was once full of milu and rhinos.

"It's not an easy job. To take good care of the milu, you need to learn about them and closely monitor them to collect data," Cai said, "This job means a lonely and simple life." The reserve is in such a remote area that sometimes when he misses lunch at the canteen, he has to go 2 km to buy food. "You need determination to remain here," he said. 

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