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Rangelands and Pastoral Production on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China


Biodiversity on Tibetan Rangelands


A small band of male Tibetan antelope in Stipa grasslands at about 5,000m near Garco, northern Tibet.

Tibetan antelope define the vastness of the Tibetan wilderness. Like caribou in Alaska and wildebeest in Africa, antelope migrate long distances across the Tibetan Plateau. In May, female antelope with their female young of the previous year, trek north from their winter ranges for 300 to 400 km to give birth in barren uplands on the northern edge of the Plateau. The ecology of these animals is still poorly understood and even the exact location of their birthing grounds are unknown. The antelopeís migratory habitat indicates the need for an enormous territory or home range. Tibetan antelope have been badly persecuted for their valuable wool, known as shatoosh, which is the finest wool in the world. Preserving the remaining populations of Tibetan antelope is a conservation priority for Tibetan rangelands.





Black-necked cranes in flight in the Lhasa Valley, Tibet.

Numerous species of birds, such as black-necked cranes, inhabit Tibetan grasslands. Black-necked cranes nest in marshes in the grasslands of the northern and central Tibetan Plateau in the summer and, in the winter, migrate to the Lhasa Valley, a few sites in Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces, and to Bhutan.





Wild yak bull in the Chang Tang Wildlife Reserve, Tibet.

Superbly adapted to the rugged conditions of the highest plateau on earth, wild yaks are a keystone species: their presence identifies one of the last, great unspoiled ecosystems of Central Asia. Wild yaks once numbered in the millions and roamed throughout the Tibetan Plateau. Now, only an estimated 14,000 are left and these remaining wild yaks can only be found in the most remote areas, far from the hunterís guns. Wild yaks are probably the wildlife species under the most threat on the Tibetan Plateau today. Preserving the last herds of wild yaks is crucial for conserving biodiversity in the rangelands. Without the wild yak, the rangelands of Tibet will have lost one of its characteristic species. The wild yak is the progenitor of all yak populations. There is little doubt that the presence of wild yaks, and their later domestication, was the singlemost important factor in the adaptation of civilisation on the Tibetan Plateau.


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