Building a wildlife paradise
Ranging from 1,400 to 8,800 meters in elevation, the Mount Qomolangma Nature Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse nature reserves in Tibet. It has more than 2,000 advanced plant species and 53 species of mammal, including 47 rare and endangered ones under the highest national protection.
Some wild animals in the nature reserve inconvenience local residents by eating crops or attacking livestock. In 2012, herders often found snow leopards trailing behind their yaks and sheep, and in that year, more than 40 farm animals were reported attacked by snow leopards. In 1972, the International Union for Conservation of Nature placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species.
During the past two decades since the nature reserve's establishment, the number of snow leopards in the region has grown rapidly. The number of villages where snow leopards have been spotted has also doubled.
"In the area near Mount Qomolangma, snow leopards are responsible for more than half of livestock injuries caused by wild animals," said Gesang Droma with the Qomolangma Reserve Bureau.
In recent years, black and brown bears, also protected species in the nature reserve, have also been reported hurting people, said Tsewang, Director of the Gyirong County Branch of the Qomolangma Reserve Bureau.
Machins, a protected long-tailed monkey species, often pay uninvited visits to residents' homes in broad daylight, and can seriously damage cash crops and grains.
The government compensates local farmers and herders for their losses. For example, a yak lost to wild animals is worth 3,500 yuan ($568) and a sheep 500 yuan ($81). The government also pays for the fences and barbed wires erected to prevent wild animals from eating crops. In villages frequented by wild animals, guards are posted to prevent poaching.
Blue sheep and argali like to eat salt, so reserve workers visit their habitat four times a year to distribute salt. In addition, wild animal rescue stations will be set up to save animals from injuries, said Gesang Droma.
In the nature reserve, in addition to animals, protected plants such as the Himalayan yew, Euphobia royleana and Pinus palustris mill also enjoy protection. Tsewang said that nursery gardens with similar temperature and humidity are set up at the same latitude as the plant species' natural habitat. Seedlings natured in the gardens are later transplanted in the wild.
Even commonplace plant spices such as dwarf Siberian pine have prospered in the nature reserve, since they are less likely to be chopped down as local residents switch to biogas for cooking fuel.
Keeping the reserve clean
The spectacular scenery and rare wildlife in Mount Qomolangma have lured more and more mountain climbers and other tourists to the area. So far, more than 3,500 people have successfully ascended to the summit.
As the number of visitors to the reserve has increased, so has the amount of garbage, which poses another environmental challenge. The Qomolangma Reserve Bureau periodically sends people to clean up mountaineering camps on the peaks in the reserve, such as the Qomolangma, Cho Oyu and Shisha Pangma, and transport the garbage to Tingri for disposal. The bureau said that every day, up to three truckloads of garbage are shipped down the peaks.
The bureau has also prepared garbage bags and distributed them to mountaineers and other tourists for free. Tourists are asked to put trash in the bags and carry them down. This idea is warmly supported by tourists.
Tourists may also cause other environmental damages while climbing mountains. Old roads on Mount Qomolangma are usually unpaved and "shabby," so tourists often blaze their own trails, damaging vegetation in the process, according to Wang Xudong, deputy head of Tingri County. In response, the Qomolangma Reserve Bureau requires mountaineers to follow existing paths and forbids them from carving new routes.
To facilitate tourists' access to the Mount Qomolangma Base Camp at 5,200 meters above sea level, where mountaineers can rest and prepare to ascend to the summit, Tingri is paving a 100-km-long asphalt road to the camp.
Wang said that after the road is open in the next year, a comprehensive service facility will be constructed at a place 79 km from the Mount Qomolangma Base Camp. By then, self-driving tourists can leave their own cars there and transfer to pollution- and noise-free electric vehicles. According to Wang, 17,000 private vehicles entered the core area of the nature reserve in 2013.
Wang said that electric vehicles will reduce the impacts of exhaust emissions on icebergs while preventing animals from being startled by car horns.
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