Tibet Launches High-altitude Relocation Program
High on the Tibetan plateau, in China’s highest and largest national nature reserve, the rare and endangered Tibetan antelope roams free across the Changtang Grasslands. One of China’s first-class of protected species, this beautiful creature was hunted to near extinction by foreign bunters for its soft pelt and long horns. Now, it is being protected from the incursion of people once more, to ensure its survival, as well as the survival of the people.

Rongwa Townships, two small village communities more than 1,200 kilometers from Lhasa, lie very close to the migratory route and littering areas of these endangered animals, and are deemed to be a danger to the protection of the wildlife in the area. Located inside the nature reserve, which has a restriction on development, these communities have been suffering difficulties in schooling, medical treatment, and employment, leaving the people some of the poorest in Tibet.

The answer is the relocation of the villages to an area that is more conducive to better living conditions and human survival. The average life expectancy of the villagers was well below that of the average in Tibet, and the poor oxygen levels at that altitude have a detrimental effect on the communities, along with the lack of public services available and the frequent natural disasters.

With an area of around 298 thousand square kilometers, the Changtang National Nature reserve lies at an average altitude of more than 5,000 meters. This high altitude and lack of resources has prompted the first ever ecological relocation program in Tibet. Both villages were set to be moved to a location just 27 kilometers from Lhasa City, where relocation communities had been set up to cater to their new lives.

On June 11, 2018, the first of the villagers made the 1,200-kilometer trip from Rongwa to Lhasa, and their new homes. Consisting of five types of housing units, all of which are built to withstand an earthquake up to a magnitude of 8 on the Richter scale, the village also includes school buildings, kindergartens, village committee premises, and public offices. The village was designed to provide a more convenient and comfortable living environment for the 1,102 people that were relocated, as well as more space for further development.

The relocation of these villagers has also released huge areas of grasslands that are free from human influence and interference for the indigenous species of the prairies, such as the wild donkeys and Tibetan antelopes. It has also made the areas of migration and littering more peaceful which is more conducive to the successful re-breeding of the species in Tibet and its eventual growth to non-endangered status.

Since the Changtang Grasslands were first named as a nature reserve in 1992, there has been a steady growth in the numbers of Tibetan antelope in the region, thanks to the construction, protection, and management of the reserve. The total population of Tibetan antelope has increase by more than 200 percent in the last 20 years, to an amazing 150 thousand animals, with similar increases in the populations of wild donkeys and wild yaks. The numbers of other local species has also increased, with major population growth for the black-necked cranes, the snow leopards, and previously declining argali, the largest of the Himalayan mountain sheep that were once found right across the higher lands of central Asia.

TAG: high altitude


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