Three rivers' source area whets appetite for conservation

Publish Time: 2022-12-06 Author: Zou Shuo From: China Daily

A herd of Tibetan antelopes is seen in the Hoh Xil area of the park last year. WU GANG/XINHUA

The country's largest national park is working hard to protect the environment and safeguard numerous endangered species. Zou Shuo reports.

Editor's note: In the coming weeks, China Daily will be publishing special reports focusing on the ongoing development of the country's national parks system, looking at areas coming under stronger protection and the species benefiting from the new facilities.

The Sanjiangyuan National Park, covering 190,700 square kilometers, is China's largest such facility. It is about 14 times the area of Yellowstone National Park in the United States and 19 times larger than the Banff National Park in Canada.

Standing at an average altitude of more than 4,500 meters, the sparsely populated park in Qinghai province is the ideal habitat for many wildlife species, including Tibetan antelopes and snow leopards.

Sanjiangyuan, which means 'source of three rivers', is home to the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers, with the latter being known as the Mekong once it leaves Chinese territory. As such, the park has been dubbed "Asia's water tower".

Two percent of the total water volume of the Yangtze River, 49 percent of the Yellow River and 17 percent of the Lancang River come from the Sanjiangyuan area, with tributaries providing the rest.

Decades ago, climate change and human activity caused serious environmental degradation in Sanjiangyuan, which resulted in a large number of lakes drying out and wildlife numbers falling sharply.

In 2016, the pilot program for the Sanjiangyuan National Park management system was launched, and the area was officially designated as a national park in October last year.

Through painstaking practice, development and innovation, efforts have been made to turn the park into a symbol of the progress of China's ecological civilization, a model for the protection of the country's important environmental security barrier and a pure land for future generations.

A white-lipped deer is photographed in the Sanjiangyuan National Park, Qinghai province, in August.  XINHUA NEWS AGENCY

Historic changes

The ecological environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has undergone comprehensive, watershed changes, according to experts.

"Ecological environment" refers to a concept promoted by President Xi Jinping that emphasizes the sustainable joint development of humanity and nature.

Local governments said they have safeguarded the plateau's environment to the best of their ability, attempting to develop it as a national or even global example of related conservation.

Through the implementation of environmental monitoring and a geographical information system, the integration of advanced monitoring techniques, the use of communications transmission and information technology, the local authority has realized the high-density, multifactor, all-weather and automatic collection of all kinds of data such as those related to the environment, the ecosystem and resources in the Sanjiangyuan area.

Over the past decade, water conservation in the area has risen by 6 percent every year, and the area has provided 90 billion cubic meters of water per annum to lower-lying regions. Moreover, grassland coverage and grass cultivation have risen by more than 11 percent and 30 percent respectively, compared with 10 years ago.

Tobdan, a member of the Tibetan ethnic group, is an environmental protector and ranger in Madoi county in Qinghai's Golog Tibetan autonomous prefecture, where the Yellow River rises.

The county is home to more than 3,000 rangers like Tobdan. Wearing an armband and a fluorescent green vest, his job is to patrol a lake known locally as the "star sea".

In a report by Guangming Daily, Tobdan, who like many Tibetans only uses one name, said he is responsible for protecting the grassland, lakes and wild animals, clearing garbage and other pollutants, and recording the lake's environmental condition.

He said he also explains the importance of environmental protection to tourists, adding that the lake is so beautiful that anyone who has visited would want to protect it.

Sun Lijun, deputy director of the Sanjiangyuan National Park Administrative Bureau, said more than 20,000 local residents have become rangers and protectors in the area as part of a policy aimed at finding one job for each household.

A snow leopard surveys a valley in the park in July 2020.  XINHUA NEWS AGENCY

As such, the government provides each ranger with an annual stipend of 21,600 yuan ($3,100), while more than 22 billion yuan has been invested in environmental restoration projects in the area, he added.

Local residents enjoy the gifts given by nature, and the establishment of the national park has enabled local herdsmen to transition from exploiting nature to becoming its protectors and benefiting from it, Sun said.

Samdrub, a herdsman in Angsai township, Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Qinghai, said seniors in his village always say that to protect the grassland is to protect homes, because herders make a living by raising cattle and sheep.

His pasture is located in Angsai canyon, where the Lancang rises. He said that the grassland in his hometown "suffered from a major disease" more than 10 years ago.

Climate change and voracious rats meant grassland degradation was a serious problem as rivers were polluted, and there was garbage everywhere, he told Xinhua News Agency. In 2018, the Sanjiangyuan National Park pilot granted the township the right to operate a franchise tourism business and trained some herders to work as tour guides around the canyon, assisting visitors from home and abroad.

Samdrub is one of 22 local herders who received training as tour guides. They offer introductions to a range of activities, from a cultural experience to a wildlife tour that includes a "snow leopard quest".

In the past five years, Samdrub has made 30,000 yuan from the work. "It is unimaginable that I can make money just by showing people around and watching wild animals. It's all thanks to the improved environment in Angsai and the increase in wildlife here," he said.

Tsewang Dorje, head of the township, said the income generated by tourism is split three ways: 45 percent goes to the residents; 45 percent is spent on local public affairs; and the remaining 10 percent is used to help protect the environment. The environmental protection revenue has been used to save many injured wild animals, he said.

Tashi Dondrub, a local official, said that when the residents realize that their hometown is a place people want to visit and they can make money from the good environment and ecosystem, the idea of harmony between humanity and nature takes root in their minds.

A herd of Tibetan wild donkeys skirt a lake as they walk through the plateau.  XINHUA NEWS AGENCY

New monitoring system

A complete system to monitor snow leopards-which enjoy the highest level of State protection-has been set up in Angsai, led by local governments and with public participation. So far, 84 snow leopards have been monitored in the township, Tashi Dondrub said.

The Shanshui Conservation Center, an organization based in Beijing, helped Angsai set up the monitoring system. Zhao Xiang, the center's head, said that in the past three years, 349 visitors have come to Angsai to enjoy the sights, with more than 100 of them being foreign nationals who live in China.

In the past decade, the center has installed nearly 800 infrared cameras around Sanjiangyuan, capturing about 100,000 photos of snow leopards and identifying at least 400 individual animals, he added.

Moreover, in the area around Hoh Xil, the number of Tibetan antelopes, a species under first-class national protection, had risen from less than 20,000 in the 1990s to more than 70,000 by last year.

Gan Xuebin, deputy director of the management bureau of the Yellow River's headwaters region in the park, said the headwaters have flowed uninterrupted for nearly 16 years. The number of lakes in Madoi, dubbed locally 'the county of a thousand lakes', has risen to 5,849, while 104 sq km of wetland has recently been added to the county.

Chen Ruifeng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Qinghai Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, said environmental protection is strategically important to Qinghai.

The province has made efforts to protect the animals, plants, water and mountains on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the environment has seen historic, comprehensive and watershed changes, he told a recent news conference.

In addition to the establishment of the Sanjiangyuan National Park, a pilot task in the Qilian Mountain National Park has been completed and the province is also working hard to establish the Qinghai Lake National Park, Chen said.


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