Environmental protection in Asia’s “water tower”

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An aerial photo of Sanjiangyuan National Park in northwest China’s Qinghai Province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

XINING-Over the past decade, Tibetan Ranger Gechok has generally started his day with the same routine, waking up early in the morning and riding his horse to the source area of ​​the Yellow River.

He spends seven hours a day on patrol, covering tens of kilometres, taking notes on the presence and activities of wildlife, vegetation growth and changes in the snow line. The details are noted in a notebook and then collated, before being sent in the form of reports to environmental protection professionals.

“Before, animals and plants were just decorations for me. But when I became a ranger, I learned recording methods from professionals and realized that they are scientific research materials, which can be used to better protect the ecological environment,” he said. said.

Gechok is among more than 20,000 herders who have secured new jobs as rangers in Sanjiangyuan National Park in northwest China’s Qinghai Province, which sits at an average altitude of more than 4,700 meters.

The Sanjiangyuan area is known as the “water tower” of Asia because it contains the sources of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers. It is also home to nearly 70 wildlife species under state protection, accounting for 26.8 percent of China’s total nationally protected species.

Previously, due to climate change and various human activities, Sanjiangyuan suffered severe ecological degradation, with the disappearance of a large number of lakes and a sharp decline in wildlife.

In recent years, however, the situation has largely improved thanks to the concerted and tireless efforts of governments at various levels, institutes and grassroots workers.

Continuous efforts

Madoi County, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, where the source region of the Yellow River is located, has seen changes in its ecological environment over the years.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Madoi’s main industry was animal husbandry.

At that time, each household in the county owned hundreds of cattle and sheep, and the development of animal husbandry boosted the local economy.

In the early 1980s, Madoi became one of China’s richest counties in terms of animal husbandry.

However, from the late 1980s to the beginning of this century, due to various factors, including climate change, Madoi wetlands and lakes declined, grassland vegetation degraded, the conservation capacity of water has dropped sharply, biodiversity has been impacted and the local economic and social situation has diminished. development has been hampered.

The upper course of the Yellow River at Madoi partially dried up between 2003 and 2004, exposing river beds covered with yellow sand.

To restore the ecological environment, the county government has taken a series of measures, including launching ecological migration programs, imposing a grazing ban in certain areas, and encouraging local herders to participate in ecological protection.

The measures proved to be effective, the trend of deterioration of the local ecology was reversed.

Madoi is a fine example of China’s efforts to improve the ecological environment and biodiversity in the Sanjiangyuan region.

Sun Lijun, deputy director of the administration of Sanjiangyuan National Park, said that starting in 2005, China launched ecological projects to protect and restore the environment in Sanjiangyuan, with a cumulative investment of more than 22 billion. yuan ($3.19 billion).

In 2016, China began piloting Sanjiangyuan National Park. Every household living inside the 190,700 square kilometer park was offered a job as a ranger with an annual income of more than 21,000 yuan.

In addition to these efforts, many counties and townships in Sanjiangyuan have begun to explore their own sustainable development models based on their respective characteristics.

Namse Township in Qinghai’s Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, crossed by the Lancang River, is known as the “hometown of snow leopards” due to frequent sightings of the big cat species.

As of 2019, the township piloted a franchise business model for tourism, training some ranchers to serve as eco-guides to greet tourists. Currently, Namse Nyanthok Village has more than 10 such guides, with each household earning more than 10,000 yuan per year.

Last October, Sanjiangyuan National Park was officially designated.

Positive signs

Years of tireless conservation efforts have yielded positive results.

“The Yellow River springs have been flowing for nearly 16 years,” said Gan Xuebin, deputy director of the park’s Yellow River springs area management office.

Gan added that the number of lakes in Madoi, dubbed “the county of a thousand lakes”, increased from 4,077 recorded in the county’s annals to 5,849 in 2018, while 104 km2 of wetlands were added in 2018.

According to a press briefing in Qinghai on Wednesday, over the past decade, water conservation in the Sanjiangyuan area has increased by more than 6 percent on average every year, while grassland coverage has increased by more than 6 percent. by 11% and grass production by 30%.

Amid efforts to improve wildlife habitats and conserve ecosystems, populations of wild animals and plants have continued to rise in the Sanjiangyuan area.

Karma Yingphel, who works at a protection station in Sanjiangyuan National Park, has been patrolling and protecting rare and endangered species, including Tibetan antelopes, and their habitats in Hoh Xil since 2007, along with her colleagues.

Their hard work paid off. The population of Tibetan antelope in Hoh Xil, a top national protected species in China, has grown from less than 20,000 in the 1990s to more than 70,000 in 2021.

The Shanshui Conservation Center, a nature conservation organization, has installed nearly 800 infrared cameras in the Sanjiangyuan area over the past decade, taking around 100,000 photos of snow leopards, a species under the highest national protection. of China, according to the center’s Zhao Xiang. .

“So far, we have identified at least 400 snow leopards in the area,” Zhao said, adding that the distribution density of snow leopards in Sanjiangyuan is higher than the global average, indicating that this area is the snow leopard’s most important habitat. in China and around the world.

Xinhua

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