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Snowstorms kill 4,000 Tibetan gazelles
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Snowstorms which lashed Shiqu county in Sichuan province for nearly two months have affected the lives of more than 60,000 people and killed about 4,000 Tibetan gazelles.

Since January 13, snow has fallen 10 times in the county.

On average, the county is covered with snow 20 cm thick, with the thickest snow 60 cm," said Luo Ze, deputy chief of the county's meteorology bureau.

The severe weather has affected 90 percent of the 70,000 residents, Luo told China Daily in a telephone interview. Nearly 2,000 people suffered from frostbite, said Xiao Yanzi, deputy county chief.

Shortages of food, water, forage, medicines, quilts and fuel are the major problem facing farmers and herdsmen.

The government of the Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture, which has Shiqu under its administration, and the Shiqu county government have provided 3.9 million yuan (US$534,250) for disaster relief, plus 500 tons of grain, 500 tons of forage grass, 500 tons of coal and 25 tons of grass.

"The county government has asked relief workers to carry materials to households inaccessible by road. Most farmers and herdsmen affected by the disaster live on high mountains," Luo said.

The snowstorms, which killed a large number of livestock, have also resulted in the death of about 4,000 wild Tibetan gazelles which are unique to the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Tibetan gazelles enjoy Grade 2 State protection.

As the grasslands are covered with ice and snow, many of the gazelles died of cold and starvation.

The county has implemented a policy of protecting people and their domestic animals first, said Liu Ze, deputy magistrate of Shiqu.

According to Luo, light snow is expected in the county between Wednesday and Friday, which will be another blow to gazelles because it will add to the thick blanket of snow covering the grasslands.

With an average altitude of 4,500 m, Shiqu is known as the "forbidden zone of life". Located at the junction of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces and the Tibet autonomous region, the county has the lowest temperature of - 37.8 C - in winter, and its oxygen content is less than half of the country's inland areas.

(China Daily March 10, 2008)

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