Modern wildlife conservation initiatives and the pastoralist/hunter nomads of northwestern Tibet
Keywords:wildlife conservation, Tibet, pastoralist, hunter, Chang Tang Nature Preserve, chiru, conservation and development, wild yak
AbstractIn 1993 the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China established the 300 000 km2 Chang Tang Nature Preserve on the northwestern Tibetan plateau, an action precipitated by rapidly diminishing populations of chiru (Tibetan antelope) and wild yak. Some 30 000 nomadic pastoralists use areas within this reserve for livestock grazing, with many having traditionally depended in part on hunting for supplementary subsistence and trade. Following a 1997 request from TAR leaders for international assistance in addressing the conservation issues associated with the creation of this reserve, the TAR Forestry Bureau and the Network for University Co-operation Tibet — Norway began a 3-year research collaboration program in 2000 to outline human-wildlife interactions and conservation priorities in the western part of the reserve. To date, four excursions (2-6 weeks each) have been made to the western Chang Tang region, and investigations of interactions between pastoralists and wildlife conservation objectives have been initiated in an area of about 5000 km2, including the 2300 km2 Aru basin located at 5000 m elevation at the northern edge of pastoralist inhabitation. The Aru site is unique in that nomads have only recently returned to this previously off-limits basin. But, as in surrounding areas, the people's lives are undergoing changes recently influenced by the introduction of permanent winter houses, changing international trade in shahtoosh and cashmere wool, and a move towards stricter hunting regulations. The northwestern Chang Tang, with the Aru basin as a prime site, represents one of the last strongholds of the endangered chiru and wild yak, as well as home to Tibetan gazelle, kiang, Tibetan argali, blue sheep, wolf, snow leopard and brown bear. In autumn 2000, for example, with approximately 12 000 of the wild ungulates (mostly the migratory chiru) within the Aru basin along with some 8000 domestic livestock, issues of land use overlap and possible grazing competition are clear to both local nomads and reserve managers. Whereas livestock development actions elsewhere on the Tibetan plateau are promoting increased livestock production, they are doing so at the expense of wildlife, and such an approach will not be appropriate in areas where wildlife conservation is a major priority. Although some of the ongoing livestock development programs may be adapted to the western TAR, new approaches to pastoral development will have to be developed in the reserve. The ultimate goal of enhancing the nomads' standard of living, while conserving this truly unique array of biodiversity, presents a daunting challenge.
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