Protecting the environment 'way of life' in headwaters of Asian rivers

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, March 11, 2016
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Bugayang, chief of staff of Xianggu Temple, is washed-out and red-eyed. Last night he and six other monks were searching the mountains for poachers.

Monks at the 700-year-old temple work with the local community to protect the wildlife and environment in Sanjiangyuan, the headwaters of the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Lancang (Mekong) rivers in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Bugayang left at nightfall hoping to take the poachers by surprise. They fumbled through the darkness for more than 10 hours but left empty-handed.

In Sanjiangyuan, the people have a history of protecting their local environment, which spans hundreds of years.

"Our Living Buddha Adro teaches us that all living things are equal. He often reminds believers to take care of the animals and plants." Heeding his advice, locals have planted more than 1,000 trees around the temple, Bugayang said.

Poaching is rare nowadays after the local authorities took a hardline stance on the practice. However, as the winter sets in, it it almost impossible to guard the whole length of the 828-km frozen Tongtian River, and some poachers try their luck, Tashi, deputy chief of Yushu city' s forest police, said.

In winter, the Xianggu monks range to protect the wildlife, Bugayang said. Not long ago, he and other monks saved a river deer from a pack of wild dogs and gave it antibiotics.

Outside the temple gate, water flows from a hose so that wild animals can drink from it when the fountains are frozen in the mountains.

"In my first year working with local herders, I was always surprised by their enthusiasm," Sonamtso, a 28-year-old employee of the snow leopard project at NGO Shanshui Conservation Center (SCC), said.

Local herders help SCC check the infrared cameras installed along the river that monitor snow leopards. A volunteer manages two cameras, each at the center of a 25 square kilometer square.

"We ask them to check the cameras twice every three months, but they just check them as often as possible," Sonamtso said. Even in winter, some herders trek tens of kilometers in knee-deep snow just to check their cameras.

The cameras have a working-life of around 200 days in a year, as they can be damaged by animals, malfunction, run out of power or get stolen. Despite this, all of the cameras continue to work non-stop, thanks to the local volunteers.

"The locals have a natural and traditional bond with nature. Once they understand what it is that they need to do, they just can't wait to help," Sonamtso said.

"In Yushu, protecting the environment is beyond law or money. It is a way of life," resident Tsala Odze said.

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