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Tibetans in Dilemma with Wildlife Boom

Wildlife numbers in the Mt. Qomolangma National Nature Reserve are soaring, providing a dilemma for Tibetans who see their fields invaded by animal visitors.

"The animals came to eat our crops each year, especially in recent years as the numbers have risen," said a worried Gesang, a Tibetan in Jiangcun village, at the heart of the reserve in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibetans, who mostly believe in Buddhism which reveres all creatures, so they were happy to see the wild animals protected in the reserve were increasing, said Gesang.

However, they felt helpless on seeing the animals destroy their fields -- their sole livelihood -- as they are prohibited from capturing or killing the animals, which are under state protection.

"We hope the government can give us some compensation," Gesang said.

Covering 33,819 square kilometers along the China-Nepal border, the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve has a population of 82,000. Since it was established in 1988, great progress had been made to preserve the number and diversity of wild animals on the world's highest mountain area.

Official figures show the number of kiangs (a large wild ass) has doubled to 300, and their living area has expanded to lower areas. The kiangs can be seen racing with cars on the roads. The numbers of Tibetan antelopes and bharals had also increased. At the foot of Qomolangma, visitors can come within 10 to 20 meters of the bharals.

In the early days of the establishment, less than 100 kiangs lived in the reserve. The other animals mostly ran away as soon as people came within 100 to 200 meters.

Since the reserve was set up, Tibetans residents had been told to protect these animals and not to scare or kill them. Laws and regulations like the Forestry Law and Law on the Protection of Wildlife also went into effect when it was set up.

This year, 278 vertebrates are living in the reserve, 33 of which are under state-level protection.

With the number increasing and their living areas expanding, however, food is becoming short in the reserve, driving hungry animals to approach fields and livestock.

In 1999, five to 22 percent of crops, wheat and barley fields in Jiangcun village were damaged by monkeys, wild boars and muntjacs. In some villages of Nyalam County, bharals and kiangs ate 40 percent of highland barley each year.

Wolves and snow leopards killed or injured 270 head of livestock in Dinggye county, causing economic losses of 147,800 yuan (US$18,024) in 2001.

Some experts suggest the government should modify the Law on the Protection of Wildlife to allow for clearly defined compensation. They also recommended local guard groups to be set up to drive wild animals out of farm areas and more emergency veterinary teams to give immediate treatment to livestock. Residents must also strengthen fences.

"People seldom take revenge on the wildlife, even though their families are being harmed. Protecting animals is always a must and obligation of Tibetans," said Yan Yinliang, an official with the administration bureau in Qomolangma Nature Reserve.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2003)

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