Once spanning a massive 500,000 square kilometers, the previously untouched reaches or uninhabited areas of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have shrunk by about 200,000 square kilometers due mainly to man and livestock encroaching on nature's turf, the Beijing Youth Daily reported September 6.
According to Liu Wulin, head of the Tibet Autonomous Region's Forestry Exploration Research Institute and also a wild animal expert, communities of nomads have been found in an uninhabited area -- about 100,000 square kilometers in size -- just outside of the Qiangtang and Hol Xil nature reserves where nomads already live.
The uninhabited areas of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, at an average altitude of 4,600 meters above sea level, have been nicknamed the "world's highest natural zoo" by local and international scholars. It is home to more than 40 animals that are under first or second-class national protection including the Tibetan antelope, the wild yak, the snow leopard and the black-necked crane.
It is also one of the few unexplored areas left in the world and an important ecological protection zone and water source for China. China's mother river, the Yangtze, originates in this area.
The uninhabited areas of Hol Xil, located in northwest China's Qinghai Province, have a total area of 45,000 square kilometers. The Fenghuo Mountain pass, at an altitude of 5,000 meters, has already been inhabited by nomads. Over 1,000 sheep and 200 yaks graze on the mountain.
Caiga, director of the Hol Xil Natural Reserve Administration, said their latest investigation shows that 64 households and 392 people had moved into the reserve, along with over 7,200 cows and 40,000 sheep.
Those who moved into the uninhabited area are not only local nomads of Qinghai but also nomads from Nagqu in Tibet. Together, they occupy and exploit about 25 percent of the reserve, Caiga said.
The Qiangtang Natural Reserve in Tibet covers a total area of 298,000 square kilometers, with an average altitude of 5,000 meters. It is currently China's largest natural land reserve. About 70 percent of the Tibetan antelope population is found here.
Buqiong, director of the Qiangtang Natural Reserve Administration, said that 30 years ago, there wasn't a soul living here except for a few researchers. However, as early as 1976, over 100 households of nomads moved into the area and established the Shuanghu Administrative Office. There are now over 400 households. The population in this administrative area exceeds 10,000. The portion of previously uninhabited land now teeming with human activities and livestock exceeds 100,000 square kilometers.
(China.org.cn by Wang Qian, September 9, 2005)