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China’s Conservation Achievements on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Date:2012-05-08 16:01 Hits:

China’s Conservation Achievements on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau
Dawa Tsering
(Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, Lhasa, Tibet)

China recognizes the global importance of protecting Tibet’s ecological and environmental integrity

Westerners started the scientific exploration of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the late 19th century, and some were able to make multiple visits and travel to the most remote regions of the plateau. These explorers came for different purposes, however, their accounts and records brought the mysteries of the plateau, in particularly it’s unique culture and ecology, to the world’s attention for the first time. However, the work of these early explorers largely consisted of preliminary data collection on a wide variety of topics, and at did not deliver any positive impacts for protection of the plateau environment.

Chinese scientists began their early environmental and ecological studies of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the 1930s, at which time some of the first methodical scientific surveys of the Tibetan plateau were conducted. In 1951, the Chinese government organized the “Tibet Working Team”, and conducted the first comprehensive surveys on the status of land, forest, grassland, mineral, and hydrological resources in Tibet. In addition to data collection, the team also developed a long-term strategy for further scientific investigation. The Chinese Academy of Sciences established the “Tibet Integrated Survey Team,” which consisted of scientists from the field of biology, zoology, hydrology, meteorology, geology, botany, and entomology. In the 1950s and 60s the government also organized topic-orientated research and surveys to aid in developing a conservation strategy for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The integration of information gathered from both specialized and large-scale surveys marked the beginning of China’s methodical scientific approach to ecological and environmental conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Ecological and environmental conservation became a major government priority when the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was officially established in 1965. The Environmental Conservation Official Working Group of the TAR and a working group office were set up in 1975, with this group being responsible for environmental protection and conservation strategy development in the autonomous region. The development of institutional and managerial capacity gradually increased to reflect the importance with which the TAR government viewed conservation work, as the working group tackled the environmental issues in the 1980s and 1990s. Later, the establishment of environmental department and forestry department of the TAR and their subsidiary county and prefecture bureaus further strengthened the institutional capacity to protect the environment.

The development of these institutions also promoted the development of the legal framework for carrying out ecological and environmental conservation activities in the TAR. To date, the Tibet People’s Congress, TAR government, and government agencies have published over 40 sets of laws and regulations on land management, forestry protection, grassland management, wildlife protection, pollution control, and nature reserve management. A comprehensive provincial legislative system is in place, and environmental and ecological protection activities are fully authorized and mandated by both provincial and national laws.

Achievements of China’s Ecological and Environmental Protection Efforts on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Establishing an ecologically comprehensive system of nature reserves and national parks is been considered to be one of the most effective methods of conserving wildlife and habitats. The TAR government has established over 70 nature reserves and parks since the 1980s, twenty of which are either national or provincial level protected areas. National and provincial level nature reserves cover 407,300 km2, which is over 1/3rd of TAR’s territory. Wildlife poaching, mining, and other destructive economic activities are strictly prohibited in these reserves, and endemic wildlife in these protected areas is now thriving after years of population decline in the past century.

The TAR’s Chang Tang National Nature Reserve was established in 1993 with an area 298,000km2, making it the second largest nature reserve in the world, and was upgraded from a provincial-level to a national-level reserve in 2000. The reserve is home to some of Tibet’s most endangered endemic large fauna, such as the wild yak, Tibetan brown bear, Tibetan ass (Kiang), Tibetan antelope, and Tibetan gazelle, as well as a variety of endangered species with a range, such as the snow leopard and migratory black-necked crane.

Over the past 15 years since its establishment, Chang Tang reserve has been more success in striking illegal poaching and wildlife protection. Wildlife populations have been stabilized or increased due to establishment nature reserves and strengthened enforcement in Tibet. Tibetan wild ass population is increased from 56,000 in 1989 to over 100,000 in 2008; in the 1980s the population of wild yak was less than 7,000, but the number is exceeding 15,000 by 2008; and the population of Tibetan antelope reached 150,000 in 2006 from 50,000 in 1989. Besides the mentioned species, there is steady increase in other animals including Tibetan gazelle, brown bear and black-necked crane.

It is certain that conserving endangered wildlife and its habitat is one of the most arduous challenges in the field of conservation, and once a species becomes endangered, it is very difficult to conserve, but extinct. However, with efforts of the government and conservation organizations, the populations of many endangered species are stabilized or increased within last 20 years in the Tibetan plateau. The success of wildlife conservation in Tibet can be understand as one of the miracles in the field of wildlife protection in nowadays.

Tibet is also known as one of the richest region for nature forests in China, and the government has implemented series of projects to conserve the forests. The upper Yangtze basin nature forest protection project was set to conserve over 30,000 km2 area of nature forests in the Gyada, Gunjo, and Markam counties; the project of “Converting field into forest” was implemented in 28 counties in basins of Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, and Brahmaputra, and reforested over 50,000 ha as result of the project. Today, 96% of 13.89 million ha of Tibet’s forests are intact nature forests.

Illegal trade of endangered animal parts and products has been the major threat of wildlife poaching in many parts of the world. The TAR government strengthened enforcement and monitoring capacity to control and eliminate illegal trade and consumption since 1990s, and seizers have increased and illegal markets have shrink as law enforcement reinforced and monitoring capacity improved. In addition, China custom, Tibet Forestry Bureau and police jointly organized series of actions to crackdown illegal poachers and traders to save wildlife, and launch general public education programs to eliminate wildlife consumption.

As a result of enormous investment and tremendous efforts, the TAR government achieved great success in conservation of freshwater, grassland and high altitude wetlands; and harvested fruitful achievement of scientific studies in climate, high vegetation and permafrost.  Within last 50 years, the ecological development and environmental conservation get onto the track of scientific development,

The Chinese government has set the “Scientific Outlook of Development” as its long-term development principle, and it promotes building harmony between humans and nature, and maintaining sustainable development. The outlook not only accords with the demand of social development, but also responds the demand of ecological and environmental conservation of today.
 (editor:Pe ma)