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Pipeline Project to Make Way for Endangered Camels
China's monumental West-to-East Gas Transmission Project, which kicked off in July last year, will make a detour to preserve the habitat of the country's rare wild camels.

The 40-billion-yuan (US$4.8 billion) pipeline project will add 150 million yuan (US$18 million) to its tab in order to take a camel-friendly route through Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, according to the regional Xinjiang Environmental Protection Bureau.

"The pipeline, which goes through the Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary for 300 kilometers, will change its course from the buffer zone to the experimental area so that the environmental impact on wild camels can be reduced," said Wei Shanfeng, director of the bureau. He said the new route will be 15 kilometers longer.

Only some 800 wild Bactrian camels, also called wild two-humped camels, are estimated to remain in the deserts of Xinjiang and neighboring Mongolia, even rarer than giant pandas, which number about 1,000.

The rare wild camel has been ranked as highly endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List, according to Li Xinhua, head of the Natural Ecology Preservation Office with the regional bureau.

He said there are about 300 to 500 wild camels living in the Lop Nur reserve, which was set up in 2000.

"The protection of wild camels involves not only to saving the rare animals from poachers, but also preserving their natural living surroundings," Li said.

"Scientists doing genetic tests have found a 3 percent difference in the base pairs between domesticated camels and these wild Bactrian camels," said Li. "There is only a 5 percent difference between humans and chimpanzees. So these wild camels may be a different species never domesticated by humans."

Wei said his bureau plans to increase cooperation with the relevant departments to supervise pipeline construction in order to ensure that its environmental impact be will as slight as possible.

The West-to-East Gas Transmission Project, totaling 4,000 kilometers in length, will go through 10 provinces, autonomous regions and municipality including Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The pipeline is designed to transmit 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas from western regions to East China every year.

With the raising of people's consciousness of the importance of environmental protection, Chinese construction officials started to pay more attention to preserving the living space of animals.

For example, officials have also stressed the protection of the local environment in another epic construction -- the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

The foundation of the railway, being built on the world's highest plateau, will be elevated to protect the frozen soil layer, according to a scholar with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The railway -- the first one to link the Tibet Autonomous Region with the rest of China -- also has special widened passages to allow for the seasonal migration of rare Tibetan antelopes, endemic to the Tibetan Plateau.

Every June, pregnant Tibetan antelopes gather and trek to Zhuonai Lake or Taiyang Lake in the Hoh Xil area, where their young are born. A month later they return with their offspring to their original habitats, scientists say.

(China Daily September 9, 2002)

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