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Tibetans Learn to Protect Their Turf
Dondrup was excited about his new appointment 17 months ago, after having worked as a police detective for six years in Nyalam County in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

He had also headed a township government for one year.

This time, he was entrusted by the county government with the directorship of the Nyalam County Branch Office of the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve.

"The preservation of the natural environment has become one of the toughest problems that we human beings must solve, because we have for so long over-exploited mother Nature," he said.

"I love nature and love to do something that will help re-build what has been lost," he said.

But the job he has taken over is daunting.

Vast Preserve

The Qomolangma National Nature Preserve was established in 1989 as a result of the efforts of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, along with further support from the Mountain Institute of the United States.

Covering an area of 33,819 square kilometres encompassing the counties of Gyirong (Kyirong), Nyalam, Tingri (Dingri) and Dinggye (Tingkey), the preserve possesses a phenomenal wealth of natural diversity ranging from desert plateaus to subtropical jungles and soaring peaks over 8,000 metres above the sea level, according to Li Bosheng, researcher with the Institute of Botany under CAS and chief of the consulting team of experts for the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve.

He pointed out that the preserve, right in the Himalaya Mountains, is also home to more than 20 endangered or threatened wildlife species that are under State protection. These include the snow leopard, musk deer, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear.

There are also thousands of species of plants, and more than 200 bird species often hover over the scores of rhododendron and orchid species.

Dondrup and his eight colleagues with the preserve's Nyalam County branch office have an area of 8,684.19 square kilometres - the total area of Nyalam County - to look after under national preserve regulations.

"Two core protective zones in the preserve are in Nyalam County," Dondrup said.

One is the Mount Xixabangma core zone, covering 3,727 square kilometres. Mount Xixabangma (Mount Gosainthan), the 14th highest peak in the world, soars to 8,012 metres above sea level. The largest inland lake in the southern valley of Tibet, Lake Baiku, covers some 300 square kilometres.

The snow leopards and wild Tibetan ass (Equus Kiang) that roam in this zone are listed in the top category in the country's endangered wildlife protection programme, Dondrup said.

The other core zone covers only about 40 square kilometres, but it is the lowest area in the preserve, which is located on the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. The lowest point in the zone is 1,433 metres above sea level. In contrast to the more barren plateau zone of Mount Xixabangma, this zone is rich in evergreen plants and broadleaf forests that belong to the subtropical ecological system.

The two zones offer biologists perfect conditions for comparative research into the development of the ecological systems of the forests under the subtropical semi-humid conditions of the southern slopes of the Himalayas and for the shrubs on the semi-desert plateau on the northern slopes of the Himalayas, Li Bosheng said.

Down-to-earth Job

But for Dondrup and his colleagues, nature conservation in Nyalam is a real challenge.

The desire to foster economic growth in the region has brought about the construction of a number of new buildings, especially in the town of Zhangmu (Zham), the only open customs point along the Tibet Autonomous Region's border with Nepal.

The increasing number of buildings resulted in the depletion of forests in the valley flanking State 318 Highway, the China-Nepal Highway, before the establishment of the preserve stopped logging in the zone.

Dondrup also said that for generations, "local Tibetans have lived by the mountains and taken whatever mother Nature had to offer."

It has only been in recent years that the local farmers and herds people have discovered that some of the traditional ways of exploiting natural resources are hurting nature, he said.

For instance, when the local people gathered brush for firewood or for other purposes, they commonly uprooted entire plants, including the roots.

On the semi-dry plateau, once a vegetation's roots have been removed, it is almost impossible for new growth to take hold.

As a result, quite a number of rare plant species are under threat of extinction, such as the "chhu shing" (in local language), or wombu plant.

Strict enforcement of laws for environmental protection is only one of the factors for success in their work.

To persuade the local people to change some of their traditional ways of doing things and shoulder the responsibility of looking after nature has taken more than just words.

"You must bear in mind that many of the local Tibetan farmers and herds people are still living on the edge of poverty and the per capita share of farmland in the county is only 0.12 hectares," said Doje Wangzhu. He was the County Magistrate (Governor) who promptly decided to stop bulldozers rolling onto a patch of wombu shrubland, after listening to the arguments of Dr Lhakpa Sherpa, program manager of the Mountain Institute, now working in Tibet.

As a result of the decision to co-operate with a number of international non-government organizations such as the Mountain Institute, Dondrup and his colleagues working in different county government agencies now sit down and talk with village representatives and township officials to identify the needs of farmers and herdspeople to help them out of poverty.

So far, a number of community programmes have been carried out that have helped supply clean drinking water to the villages, enabled school-age children to receive education and provided health-care services at the village level.

Small dams have also been built to guard against floods.

"These programmes have helped a lot, but they are still not enough," Dondrup said.

That means Dondrup and his colleagues must work even harder.

"But I am willing to take up the challenge because what my colleagues and I are doing is contributing to the well-being of the earth," he said.

(China Daily July 4, 2002)

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