Hunting and Poaching
Hunting and poaching of wildlife for commercial gain is the principle threat to the survival of various wildlife species in Tibet. Rare animal skins and other parts such as deer antlers, Tibetan gazelle head, and leopard skins are sold openly in the market such as in Labrang, Amdo (Qinghai) without any legal penalties imposed on these hunters.
Many Tibetan refugees are eye witness to Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) brigades venturing in groups to machine gun herds of wild animals without any consideration for the sanctity of wildlife, especially after the final occupation of Tibet in 1959. These hunted animals were either taken to China as trophies, their meat exported or consumed locally by Chinese armies.
China's PLA soldiers stationed in Tibet often use dynamites in rivers and lakes to catch fish. Many Tibetan refugees recall such merciless activities in Tibet. Such activities not only kill the fishes, but also poison the whole aquatic ecosystem where these dynamites are being used.
China's official approach to wildlife can best be illustrated by statement such as this "Rich wildlife resources of Qinghai (Amdo) province provide important exports for our country. Each year, 130,000 marmot skins are exported," (Du, Qing 1987). According to Zhou Manzhang, (1987) in the past there were flocks of hundreds of wild yak in alpine grasslands in Amdo. Hunting by men in recent years have greatly reduced their number.
In a country where the per capita income is US$30 it is hard to resist the temptation of selling rare animal parts for hard cash. A snow leopard coat can fetch US$20,000 in the black market. According to the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the so called Tibet Autonomous Region, issued by the government of China (dated September 1996), admit that "hunting is prohibited, but few local governments have not enough recognition to this issue and their measures of protecting wildlife is ineffective."
George Schaller, an American wildlife scientist, who has conducted wildlife study in Chang Thang, says in the August 1993 issue of National Geographic, "Tibet Forest Bureau has tried to curtail illegal Tibetan antelope wool trade. For example, one truck driver was taken to court for killing 300 antelopes. However, control is extremely difficult, in part because officials, instead of upholding the laws, themselves often hunt. One Tibetan herdsmen in the area said that Chinese officials from Gerze (Gyertse) come in winter to Chang Thang to hunt yaks and antelope with modern weapons." He said, "If the officials obey the law and stop hunting we will too."
Behind the high sounding Chinese government rhetoric of protecting Tibet's wildlife. A state run company called China National Native Produce and Animal Byproducts Import and Export Corporation sends its agents into the countryside to trap or kill wild animals of all kinds (Schaller, 1994). Deer antlers, musk, tiger and leopard bones and other parts of animals are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
There is widespread commercial hunting of Tibetan wild animals. A permit to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$35,000, and an argali sheep US$23,000. Endangered species of Tibet, such as snow leopard, giant panda, black-necked crane, wild yak, Tibetan antelope enjoy protection only on China's government paper.
Monopolizing international interest China uses the giant panda to earn hard cash through zoo rental programs as well as to gain political leverage from influential countries, even as the species is threatened with extinction. There are now only about 1000 giant pandas left in the wild on this earth. China announced on August 17, 1995 that it will give two endangered giant pandas to Hong Kong on July 1, 1997 to mark the change of sovereignty! These rare animals are not official souvenirs to be given away as present at the whim and fancy of China.
Earlier China gave two giant pandas to the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, a pair to the Japanese Prime Minister in 1972 and a pair to the then U.S. President Richard Nixon, one to the London Zoo. These are few cases in point to prove China's exploitation of the endangered animals on the international stage.
His Holiness the late Xth Panchen Lama said on 8th March 1987 at the National People's Congress conference held in Beijing, "The expenditure on a Chinese in Tibet is four-times more than that in China. Why should Tibet pay so much to sustain these Chinese population in Tibet? Government of China's policy of sending inept Chinese into Tibet is harming Tibet. In the beginning few thousand Chinese migrated, but now several thousand more are pouring into Tibet."
Human population growth in Tibet obviously leads to the over utilization of natural resources. Tibetan wildlife habitat fall prey to intruding Chinese settlers and many animals and plants suffer from 'Shrunk home, shrunk family' syndrome. Rare animals like giant panda and golden monkey are some animals with one foot in the grave. The production of furs and pelts in central Tibet has reached 53,60,000 each year on an average. Most of these furs come from Himalayan marmot, musk deer, blue sheep, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan antelope, stone marten, foxes, lynx, leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), common otter, oriental small-clawed otter and wild red dog (Cuon alpinus).
A 1988 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangared Species (CITES) found that China's export of large cat skins totalled 89,650, which is the highest export number in the world, ironically China is a signatory to CITES.
In the Kanlho Meat Factory of Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the factory slaughters about 2500 sheep in a day, the blood and the wastes from this factory is allowed to flow into the main river from where people fetch their drinking water (Palbar, 1994).
Traditional Chinese medicine uses animal part as its ingredients, more than 100 species of animals in Tibet can provide such ingredients for medicine. Musk, pilose antler of deer and bear gallbladder have significant medicinal value. Some species of mammals were traditionally thought as pests and killed mercilessly, which also is a reason for their decline in number.
Tibet's total forest cover declined from 25.2 million hectares in 1949 to 13.57 million hectares in 1985 alone, which means 46 percent destruction. According to Chinese official statistic from 1959 to 1985 Tibetan timber worth US$54 billion were cut down and sold in the international timber market by China. No recent data is available.
Tibetan forest regions of Nyingtri, Gyalthang, and Drago were ravaged between 1965-1985 and a total of 18 million cubic meters of timber were transported to China. The state of Tibet's forest can best be illustrated by Tenzin, a middle-aged farmer of Markham village in Kham, eastern Tibet who told the New York Times correspondent, Nicholas Meysztowics in April 1990, "In the time it takes to drink one cup of tea, fifteen Chinese trucks loaded with Tibetan logs pass by."
The chaotic commune-period (1956-1981) initiated by the government of China caused an unprecedented destruction of Tibet's forest. During this period local villages became production brigades during which mountains in Tibet were stripped of their forests to feed inefficient steel furnaces in the madness to produce enough steel for China to advance rapidly to the ranks of the advanced nations!
According to Tenzin Palbar, who escaped from Tibet into India in 1987, in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture from 1955-1991 (in thirty six years) alone Chinese government have extracted 50.17 million cubic meters of Tibetan timber, which is worth US$ 3.1 billion (25 billion yuan) in Tibet alone (at the average price of 50 yuan per cubic meter, at the current rate of 1US$= 8yuan).
Tibet is 70 percent grassland and the health of these extensive grasslands are fundamental to the survival of about 1 million people consisting mainly of nomads and about 70 million population of domestic animals such as sheep, goat and yak and countless number of wildlife.
Chinese government still regard the overstocking of grazing animals on the Tibetan Plateau as the main culprit behind overgrazing. However, recent western experts who have done research in Tibet, such as Prof. Melvyn Goldstein of Case Western Reserve University, USA found that there is no significant correlation between animal density and grassland degradation.
In fact many cases of grassland devastation are related to extensive use of nomadic pastures for Chinese military encampments and installations. In the Machu district in Amdo (Qinghai), one-third of over 10,000 sq.km of Tibetan grasslands have been fenced for exclusive grazing of horses and cattle belonging to the Chinese army. News of fencing of Tibetan grassland still continue to flow from Tibet.
The principle pasture lands of Amdo (Qinghai) regions of Tibet before 1949 [i.e before China's occupation of Tibet] grew to an average height of 20 cm, covering 75 to 90 percent of the area. Today, the grass grows to maximum height of only 10 cm. while the percentage coverage of pasture lands has fallen considerably and grass yields are estimated to have fallen by up approximately 50 percent (Wang and Bai, 1991).
A widespread and economically very costly phenomenon has been the extinction of the four principal rat predators: foxes, weasels, cats and owls. This had led to local outbreaks of massive rat infestation with rat packs destroying crops in the daytime. For example, rat outbreaks damaged previously productive pastures in Tibetan province of Amdo (Qinghai). In the late 1970s some 8 million hectares of pastures was affected (one eight of the province's total, and the annual loss of dry grass reached 2.5 million tons, enough to feed to more than 5 million sheep (Zheng Boquan 1980).
The various economic value of wildlife such as medicinal, industrial, educational, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural values, vanishes altogether with the extinction of wildlife on the Tibetan Plateau.
With the disappearance of flora and fauna, the environment of the Tibetan Plateau will be irreversibly disturbed. Felling forest in Tibet, for instance, can not only wipe out a number of species but also upset the complex calculus that decides the amount of water, soil and heat a given place receives to cause soil erosion, landslides, flood and other perils.
Several rare and endangered species will become extinct. For example, the Himalayan mountain quail, Ophrysia superciliosa, the highest dwelling bird disappeard in 1868. This bird fed on grases, insects and berries. Nobody, however, knows why it died out.
Tibet, because of its immense geographical position and height, considerably influences the global weather pattern by affecting the flow of jet streams over the Tibetan Plateau. The Plateau acts as a huge land surface like an enormous ice-berg in the ocean affecting the jet streams. Loss of forest and grassland cover of the Plateau will affect the jet stream pattern, which will affect pacific typhoons and also cause the el nino effect which altogether affect the weather pattern of Europe, USA, Mexico, Peru, India, China and other adjoining areas to affect their economy.
Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)