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Qinghai-Tibet Railway Gets Positive Report
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The construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has not had a negative impact on the Tibetan antelopes living in the area, a senior environment protection official has said.

They have adapted well and accepted the specially built passage for their seasonal migration to their mating grounds, he said.

Zhu Xingxiang, who heads the department of environmental impact assessment management under the State Environmental Protection Administration of China (SEPA), gave a positive review of the rail project with regard to environmental protection during an online interview with Xinhuanet on Friday.

Zhu said his department's assessment of the so-called "Road to Heaven" had three major concerns: The wild animals, especially the migrating antelope; the preservation of the ecosystem; and pollution control. He was speaking just days after the first anniversary of the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

His comments were supported by the results of a recent survey conducted by a group of experts led by SEPA - China's environment watchdog - that said 96 percent of the Tibetans polled were satisfied with the environmental protection efforts made during the railway's construction, especially the antelope migration issue.

"The antelopes used the new pass to migrate back and forth in May and July," Zhu said.

The positive results came after a yearlong survey was conducted by environmental protection agencies, independent experts and volunteers.

The SEPA even sent a special team to oversee the construction of the "antelope pass", Zhu said.

"We were determined not to rely on hindsight to see the long-term effects on the environment and wildlife," Zhu said.

From the very first day of the project, professional inspectors were deployed at the site to monitor such issues, he said.

To protect the area's fragile ecosystem, much of the turf was lifted while construction work was under way and replaced once the project was completed.

Since its inauguration, the railway has transported 1.5 million people into Tibet, nearly half of its total tourist arrivals. The regional tourism administration was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying Tibet will receive more than 3 million tourists this year.

A popular Tibetan saying goes, "while the rail rattles, the money floods in". And it seems the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has not only linked the "roof of the world" to the outside world, but also local people with long-anticipated prosperity.

Making the most of the tourism boom, several Tibetans are making a new living working on construction sites, running small hotels and driving cabs. Some are earning as much as 2,000 yuan a month.

But the flocks of tourists also bring challenges, Zhu said.

The local tourism administration must be prepared to tackle the possible negative impacts on the ecosystem, he said.

(China Daily July 7, 2007)

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