Wildlife of Qinghai Province (青海) :
As a traditionally sparsely inhabited region with a variety of different climatic zones and natural habitats, Eastern Tibet, Qinghai Province and in fact Tibet in its entirety have been abundant in wildlife. Many rare and unique species of plants and animals can be found upon the Tibetan Plateau. Specifically, the remote location, impenetrable high mountain ranges and Buddhist beliefs prevalent in the region have worked in many respects to preserve the natural wealth of the wider regions.

For centuries, by decree of the central religious Government in Lhasa and enforced and supported by successive (religious) rulers and their populations since, the wildlife abundance of Tibet and the beauty, richness and health of its environment were directly linked to a harmonious balance between Man and Nature. Nature being the reflection of Gods intention and will. Thus, in Tibet there was a unique contract between Man and God. Respect for nature and life, equaled respect for God. It was an overriding concern that touched upon virtually every decision made.
The sparse population of the regions at the time lived with nature, depended on it for survival and thus respect for animal life, and indeed awe and fear of God, kept human interference with the environment at an absolute minimum. Roads were few and far between (The first paved road to Lhasa was constructed to enable the Chinese Army to reach there and take political control). There were no cars or trucks, only Yak and Mule caravans. Although the Tibetans had possessed guns as early as 1900 AD, hunting was extremely rare if not unheard of until at least 1950 AD. The situation changed entirely with the advent of the then brand new Peoples Republic of China, who's Leadership had laid claims to Tibet even before their new Peoples Republic was officially born.

After October the 1st of 1949 AD several turbulent periods followed for Tibet (Read more in: History of Qinghai Province - Former Amdo Province of East Tibet) resulting progressively in damage to the Tibetan Environment and devastating its wildlife. After war and the construction of roads to reach the Tibetan population centres across the plateau, followed the influx of Chinese migrants and soldiers. Ignorance and disrespect traveled alongside, striking hard at both the Tibetan population and its wildlife. Hunting and poaching became a common phenomenon and, destroying the physical expressions of the Buddhist faith and leadership of the Buddhist Lama's, tens of thousands of monasteries and temples were levelled on orders of the Communist Central Chinese Government in Beijing. The contract between Man and God in Tibet was terminated, by force and disruption.
For the first time Tibetan animals were hunted large scale for their furs as well as organs which are held to be powerful ingredients of Chinese Traditional Medicine (T.C.M.). The population of rare wild animals began a rapid and steady decline, their hunting a welcome pass time for soldiers otherwise bored with the extremely slow pace of Tibetan life.
Successively, untold horrors passed over and through the population of Tibet as political campaigns attempted to reform (I.e. destroy) the thoroughly religious Tibetan peoples, persecutions attempted to overthrow, counter and eliminate any form of political organization or protest, cultural expressions were forbidden, punished and mocked, and when even that failed - ultimately torture was unleashed wholesale on the population which still refuses to give up its cultural identity and belief system to this very day.
The human toll of this ongoing struggle has been extremely high, and so has the toll on the Tibetan wildlife and environment. To give a few examples: it is reported that throughout the 1960's -when China saw the largest famine in human history- until as late as the year 1990, steaks of Tibetan Yak meat were offered as extreme exclusives in top range western Hotels throughout China, the meat bringing in hard needed foreign currency reserves for the (militarist and totalitarian) Government. The money was then used to build the military rather than feed the ailing population, which was itself was put on a minimum ration for the purpose of better efficiency (this was entirely Mao's idea).
At the same time, the livestock of Tibetan Nomads was collectivized (I.e. claimed by the State), expanded and later pillaged to accommodate the needs of the Chinese Nation. For unclear reasons, possibly as a revenge act against stubborn Tibetan political resistance, Tibetan birds and animals were also mass hunted.
Often underreported in the past for obvious reasons, but recently coming to more attention, has been the exploitation of Qinghai Province (Eastern Tibet) as the site for various secretive nuclear and military facilities. Among things, the first Chinese atomic processing factory was built in the vicinity of Xining in Qinghai Province. In the year 1964 AD an atmospheric blast just North of the Tibetan Plateau launched China into the nuclear age and onto the world stage as a power to be reckoned with. It was one of the great visions of Mao Zedong, with lasting consequences for the world and for the local peoples.
After that glorious day when the sun emerged in the West, 22 more bulging mushroom clouds have climbed into the upper reaches of the Atmosphere, dumping their radio-active fall-out over Tibet AR, Xinjiang-Uygur AR, Gansu Province, The Republic of Mongolia, Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region and ever farther flung regions. As with other regions, the results have been lasting for Tibet however have been unreported and are only now being measured.

Today, most of the unique species found on the Tibetan Plateau are found on the endangered species list, with little hope of their survival on the horizon. Even though Chinese environmental awareness has made a drastic turn-about since the dark years of the rule of Mao Zedong (death September 1976 AD) and the opening up policies launched by his rival and ultimate successor Deng Xiaoping, new threats loom large over the future of life on the Tibetan Plateau. First and foremost is the threat of rapidly advancing climate change across the mountain plateau and the earth at large, closely followed by the population pressure from China transferred easily through new railroads and airports. Other threats come from mining and the building of hydro-electric dams along virtually every river in Tibet today.

As may be expected from the above, the number of rare animal species in Tibet is really too long to mention here. Tibet has many wild plants, mammals and birds, many of whom have not yet been studied in detail even today. To grab a few from the long list,  rare animals found on the Tibetan Plateaux which may be encountered and seen by visiting (foreign) tourist include the Tibetan Antelope or Chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii), the Argali Sheep or Nyan (Ovis ammon) and the Tibetan Yak (Bos grunniens), known as the Drong to Tibetans when living in the wild.  All three animals are well adapted to life in the extreme climate and terrain of the Tibetan Plateaux and surrounding high mountain ranges.
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and Sinkiang cultures and the ethnic design traditions of Western China. Strong in track and field events, Yingying is a quick-witted and agile boy who represents the yellow Olympic ring'.
In other words: Tibet is an inseperable part of China, and with Yingying the Tibetan Antelope chosen on the Team as a National Mascot for China, the protection of the real Antelopes on the Tibetan Plateaux, elevated as symbols of national unity, has become a political priority. The Antelope has almost aquired equal status with the benevolent Panda, the number one National symbol and tool of friendly diplomacy.

Although officially registered as native to China and mainly distributed in Sichuan Province, Qinghai Province, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as in Ladakh, and the Jammu and Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, today by far the largest populations are found in Qinghai Province and Tibet AR of China.

Historically the world discovery and thus the near demise of the Tibetan Antilope began with the advance of the Colonial Powers, specifically the British, into Central Asia. British traveling from the Indian Colony north into Kashmir escaping the boiling heat the summer season soon made aquaintance with the delicate and ultra-thin Shatoosh shawls made of  the unique Tibetan antilope underfur and soon started passing them around as exclusive and rare gifts.
Not much after, more mercantile spirits in the colonies then realised the worth of Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls and further introduced them to the world, leading to what may be called a first occurence of worldwide demand for the fur of the Tibetan Antelope. From that point on, a hunting trade developed in the far and high regions of the Tibetan Plateaux and their foothills in North India. The hunt for the Tibetan Antilope has been on eversince, the hunt together with increased population pressures having since led to a near eradication of the Tibetan Antelopes in Ladakh and sadly also in Jammu and Kashmir. Where once there were an estimated 1 million
Today is has been chosen as the mascot animal for the Province of Qinghai and fans of the Beijing Olympics may recall that one of the mascots of the event was indeed a little gray Tibetan Antelope. To be exact, the 4th Fuwa Mascot, representing the element of Earth was named Yingying. Yingying's headpiece including twirled horns clearly identifies him as a Tibetan Antelope.
As put forward in the official description of the Olympic Mascots: 'Like all antelopes, Yingying is fast and agile and can swiftly cover great stretches of land as he races across the earth. A symbol of the vastness of China's landscape, the antelope carries the blessing of health, the strength of body that comes from harmony with nature'.
Inevitably, although carefully wrapped in
The 4Th Fuwa  Beijing Olympic Mascot dubbed Yingying. The mountain animal of Tibet was chosen to represent the element of earth in the five element theory, thus suggesting unity of nation as well.
elegant wording, there was a political message as well; 'Yingying's flying pose captures the essence of a species unique to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, one of the first animals put under protection in China. The selection of the Tibetan Antelope reflects Beijing's commitment to a Green Olympics. His head ornament incorporates several decorative styles from the Qinghai-Tibet
Mostly living on or around on tabled grasslands on high plateaux lying at an elevation of 3,400 to 5,500 meters the antelopes can best be found visiting water sources in the morning and dusk. During daytime they are easily frightened and only seen at a distance or when traversing impossible terrain.  The Chiru feed mainly on grass plants and sedge plants. Individuals have a body length of some 135 centimeters stand about 80 centimetres (2.6 ft) in height at the shoulder.
Tibetan antelopes live in small groups of 2 to 6 individuals, or even tens or hundreds. One group is comprised of several females led by a dominant Male. The oestrous period is in late winter and early spring, when male antelopes fight fiercely for females. The female antelope usually delivers in the period between June to August, each mother having only one baby per propagation.  In summer therefor, the female antelopes migrate for long distances seasonally, giving birth in the lower lying valleys and returning to the males who live on higher ground during the month of august.
Although the trade in Shatoosh items has officially been banned since 1973, in the 1980's and 90's the Tibetan Antelope in Tibet (AR) and Qinghai were illegally but severely hunted for their fur, which at the time could raise very high prices on the illegal international market in the shape of 'shahtoosh' (Shahtush, a Persian word meaning "king of fine wools"). It is said that a handwoven shawl made of the hair of the Tibetan Antelope may have fetched as much as $ 30.000 US at the time. Over this period more than 20.000 Tibetan Antelopes were killed, drastically reducing the already thinned out population.
However since 1998 the then endangered animal has been under national protection, enforcing the law with stiff fines and jail sentences. Since that year the population of Tibetan Antelope has steadily grown from around 15.000 to well over 50.000 living in the wild at this time. In 2003 the Tibetan Antelope was raised as the Provincial Emblem and mascot of Qinghai, chosen for its unusual spirit which should represent the caracter of all inhabitants of these far flung, rarely advertized and economically underdeveloped western regions. In the very next year a feature film named Kekexili, after the impassable regions at the source of the Yellow River where Tibetan Antelopes thrive in seclusion brought renewed
Tibetan Antelope, today their total numbers are estimated at no higher than 75.000, most found in Tibet and Qinghai.
                          You Tube Video: Poaching of the Chiru, Tibetan Antelope continuing problem in Tibet (Tibet AR & Qinghai).
and international attention to the problem of the survival of the Chiru. Although enjoying only a limited marketing, the film did break the cause of the Chiru and the need for preservation of wildlife in remote regions to a larger Chinese Public, triggering a wide public interest and spawning an official public protection organisation.

Although sporadic poaching and illegal trade in various animal hides may still occur, killing whole herds of animals at a time, the survival of the Antelope species has been ensured for the time being.
Unfortunatly however, demand for the luxury shahtoosh product has not disappeared, and especially in the newly affluent economies of India (and to a much lesser degree China) trade in Shahtoosh and products has been a steadily recurring problem. Poaching and the threat of paoching thus remains a serious problem throughout Tibet, as local officials and corruption have several times been exposed as a factor facilitating the problem. Furthermore, new population migrations into Tibet, making use of the newly built Tibet Express railroad opened in 2006, have opened access to the habitation and grazing area's of the Tibetan Antelope. New roads, the railroad itself and new population centers may interfere with the yearly migrations of the female antelopes.
(Read More about the Tibet Express and other railway journeys in Qinghai in: ' Transportation in Qinghai Province'.)
                          You Tube Video: IFAW - Say NO to Shahtoosh, cloth made of the underfur of the Chiru, Tibetan Antelope.
The Tibetan Antelope and other rare species face a new challenge in the shape of the rapidly changing climate on the Tibetan Plateaux due to the phenomenon of Global Warming. Desertification of alpine grasslands due to overgrazing and mismanagement is one of the larger problems facing wildlife and humanity in Tibet.
                          You Tube Video: Images of the Chiru, Tibetan Antelope (Longhorn Antelope) in Tibet.
Considered first and foremost among all rare animal species in the region are the Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni). This animal locally identified as the ''chiru'' and also known as Longhorn Antelope, lives at altitudes between 3400 and 5500 meters, is well adapt at moving along steep cliffs and rocky ridges and in the open field can run at speeds up to 100 kilometers per hour. Hard to hunt and especially appreciated for its silvery gray fur, in
the past the Tibetan Antelope was considered a sacred animal.  Throughout the ages the Tibetan Antelope has inspired high passions and emotions in human beings.
Although hunting certainly occurred, methods were primitive and arduous. Mostly, the ultra-thin underfur was used as a inner lining for protective clothing worn by nomadic herders exposed to the climate of the high plateaux, the extremes of the roof of the world.
The Argali, also known simply as the mountain sheep (species Ovis ammon) or Nyan in Tibetan language, is not unique to the Tibetan Plateaux but is found throughout the high mountain ranges of Central Asia.
In essence the Argali a wild sheep, which traditionally roams the highlands of the Himalayas, the Tibetan Plateaux, the Pamirs, Altay Range, Karakoram Mountains and the Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountains) in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China (P.R.C). Worldwide it is identified as the biggest wild sheep, standing as high as 120 cm (47 in) and weighing as much as 180 kg (400 lb). The Pamir Argali was the first species to be recognized reported by none other than the Silk Road explorer Marco Polo who traversed the Pamirs and thus this species is also named Marco Polo sheep. The Pamir Argali are the tallest and largest sub-species which may may attain more than 1.8 meters (6 ft) in length. The Tibetan Plateaux, and thus Qinghai knows it own sub-species of Argali known in latin as the Tibetan Argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni) which is smaller in size.

Argalis generally live in herds between 2 and 100 animals, which unlike the Chiru are segregated by sex. The two sexes essentially only intermingle during breeding season. Migrating herds, especially males, have been reported. With long legs, high top speeds and surpising stamina herds can travel quickly from place to place. Argalis tend to live at higher elevations during the summer and descend to lower terrain only in winter when snowcover forces them to alternative grazing grounds, offering chances for humans to intercept them.
                          You Tube Video: Breaking International Law hunting Arghali Sheep in the Tian Shan mountain range of lawless & corrupt Tajikistan.
As with the even rarer and more sought after Chiru, Tibetan Antelope, Argalis are well adapted to the harsh cold and winds of the high mountain plateauxs. Alike the Chiru and the Yak, and several polar animals they produce a thin haired but thick and fluffy coat of under fur which, when harvested can be used in the production of lightweight soft and very warm cloth. Thus, eversince the coming of the handgun to these regions, the Argali, as have other species, have come under increased threat from hunters and poachers. The Argali are hunted not only for their fur, but equally for their meat and their horns, the latter and various other parts being popular ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.
Reportedly in the 1960s and 70s the random shooting of Argalis by border guards decimated the population living along the Sino-Indian border and in Nepal and Bhutan. Increased environmental awareness, better education and selection of boder guards and strong penalties against perpatrators have since reduced this shooting problem.
Other threats have come from increased population pressures, overgrazing of alpine grasslands by increasing stocks of domesticated goats, environmental
damage caused by increased industrial development of these regions with fragile environments and the expansion of roads and railroads.
Today, Argalis are considered an endangered or threatened species throughout their entire range including in Tibet. Causes are not only poaching of this protected animal,  but also to habitat loss from overgrazing of domestic sheep. Global environmental changes especially take effect on the Tibetan Plateaux, melting glaciers, decreasing streams and watersources and increasingly leading to degradation and desertification of traditional Argali habitat.

Attempts have been made to domesticate the Argali, or otherwise farm or herd them for their fur. However, attempts have so far proven futile. Argalis can however be found living in captivity in Zoological Gardens across the world.

Today Argali sheep in China are found in the upper mustang pass on the border between Nepal and Tibet (AR) of China, in Hemis National Park in the Indian controlled part of Jammu and Kashmir and across the Tibetan Plateaux in Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province and the high mountains of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region along the border with Kashmir,  India, Pakistan, the Wakhan corridor Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
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Map Trade Routes in Asia in the 13Th Century
A Schematic Map of the Eurasian Trade Routes existing in the 13Th Century. Clearly marked in Red Accent on the Map are the cities of the network of land-bound trading routes through Central Asia known as the Silk Road (the path of Marco Polo and others). Marked in Blue Accent are the Main Ports and Harbors of the Maritime Trade Routes that operated between the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and Coastal Cities, the Straights of Malacca, the South-China Sea's and beyond. As shown, Maritime Trade to China mainly entered through Southern Harbors, then was distributed internally by use of the Grand Canal, the Yangste River and the Yellow River.
Map includes the Route traveled by Marco Polo, William of Rubruck and John of Pian de Carpine, the three famed European Travelers of the Time.
Locations of Main Trading Ports and Cities on Trade Routes of the Time are marked.
The general colouration varies between each animal, from a lightish yellow to a dark grey-brown. The face of each individual is lighter than its body.  In winter, contrary to the expected the color of Argalis changes to a darker tone. Males have a whitish neck ruff and a dorsal crest as well as two large corkscrew horns, some measuring 190 cm (6.2 ft) in length. The hornes are curved backwards. Males use their horns for competing with one another. Females also carry horns, but theirs are much smaller.
THE YAK (Tibetan: Drong = གཡག ; Chinese: 藏羚羊; Latin: Bos  Grunniens) :
Wild yaks (Bos grunniens mutus or Bos mutus, Tibetan: འབྲོང་; Wylie: 'brong) are today found only in Tibet and Qinghai. They usually form herds of between ten and thirty animals. Most Yaks are black of color, however color variations toward gray and even white (rare) do occur.
The Yak, due their specific physiology, live only high up above the tree line along ridges and slopes of uplands such as hills, mountains and plateaus. Their natural habitat lies between 3,200 and 5,400 meters (10,000 and 18,000 ft), where they live off the only available vegetation; grasses, lichens and other plants. Yak do not live or thrive at altitudes below 3000 meters.
The physiology and anatomy of the Yak has evolved over 10 thousands of years and thus the Yak are well adapted to the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau. In particular, Yak have larger lungs and hearts than cattle found at lower altitudes. Yaks have three times more red blood cells than normal cows and their body chemistry also allows for a greater capacity for transporting oxygen through their blood. They are thus nimble, and remarkably powerful and energetic even on the highest passes.
Alike the other animals occupying the high ground habitats, Yak are insulated by dense, close, matted under-hair as well as their shaggy outer hair.  In addition, Yaks secrete a special sticky substance in their sweat which helps keep their under-hair matted and acts as extra insulation. This secretion is used in traditional Nepalese medicine.
Since the 1960's many wild yaks have killed for food by hunters entering Tibet from China; they are now a vulnerable species and have been listed as near extinct. Historically, the main natural predator of the wild yak has been the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) but since Tibet has become part of the Peoples Republic of China (officially), the problem of hunting and poaching has drastically reduced populations. Although in recent times stringent environmental laws, a complete ban on hunting and harsh punishments for those who hunt and kill protected species have drastically reduced the direct threat to the wild Yak population in Tibet. Hunting and poaching however remains a problem and corrupt officials have been accused of organizing illegal hunting parties. Not many facts on this subject reach the outside world however, as Tibet and Qinghai remain under very strict Chinese Government control.
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In his Book, Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, reports on his journey from the Kumbum Monastery (or Ta'Er Si) near Xining in Amdo Province to the Tibetan Capital of Lhasa in 1950:

   "Before long I was to see the vast herds of drongs with my own eyes. The sight of those beautiful and powerful beasts who from time immemorial have made their home on Tibet's high and barren plateaux never ceased to fascinate me. Somehow these shy creatures manage to sustain themselves on the stunted grass roots which is all that nature provides in those parts. And what a wonderful sight it is to see a great herd of them plunging head down in a wild gallop across the steppes. The earth shakes under their heels and a vast cloud of dust marks their passage. At nights they will protect themselves from the cold by huddling up together, with the calves in the centre. They will stand like this in a snow-storm, pressed so close together that the condensation from their breath rises into the air like a column of steam. The nomads have occasionally tried to bring up young drongs as domestic animals, but they have
                          You Tube Video: Saving the Wild Yak of Tibet; First ever breeding program in 2005 AD.
never entirely succeeded. Somehow once they live together with human beings they seem to lose their astonishing strength and powers of endurance; and they are no use at all as pack animals, because their backs immediately get sore. Their immemorial relationship with humans has therefore remained that of game and hunter, for their flesh is very tasty."

Regardless of the romantic ideas of the Abbot of the Kumbum Monastery, himself hardly a nomadic herder but an elitist chosen child trained only in the wisdom of Buddhism, the Yak was succesfully domesticated and used by the Tibetan and Mongolian populations. In fact, Tibetans have a long history of using yaks. Historical experts believe that yaks were first domesticated in Tibet at least 3000 years ago. The animals are sturdy, sure-footed even when on narrow ledges, extremely strong and perfect for
use as pack animals to cross high mountain passes or traverse along a mountain ridge to another valley. In fact, the only alternative to using Yaks as pack animals in Tibet are Mules, who are far less capable in this difficult terrain and extreme climate. In many parts of Tibet winter temperatures drop down to Minus 30 Degrees ( - 22 F), circumstances that would be too much for any mule caravan. When temperatures reach above zero, the permafrost loosens rendering 4 wheel drive vehicles useless.
The Yak can easily carry loads of 70kg (154lb) along rough and steep mountain trails. For centuries yaks have been used to carry salt from the Changtang (northern Plateau) to towns across Tibet and even across the Himalaya into the Dolpo region of Nepal. Yaks can begin being used as pack animals at age 2 and can often live to be over 20 years old.

Apart from their use as pack animals, upon whom life and trade on the plateaux depended, Yaks are also kept for their fur and other animal products. What immediatly comes to mind when mentioning Tibet is the Yak and the Yak butter melted in tea, burned in Temples and Monasteries and mixed with barley into the traditional Tibetan staple of Tsampa. Tibet is famous for its salty Yak butter Tea.
Other  animal products are Yak milk, Yak fur and Yak horns. The warm underfur of the Yak can be made into comfortable and warm padding, whereas the rough outer skin can be made into coats and blankets, which are nowadays popular tourist souvenirs and even export items. In the traditional nomadic lifestyle, yaks are even more important. Nearly all materials to
                          You Tube Video: Milking the domesticated Yak (Female: Yar in Tibetan).
construct a traditional nomadic tent are made of materials provided by the Yak. In a tree-less environment, the most readily available fuel for making fire and cooking is the dung dropped by the Yaks. Yak dung is still used as a handy fuel across the Tibet of today. In parts of Tibet, yak racing is a form of entertainment at traditional festivals and is considered an important part of their culture. New forms of using the Yak in order to entertain visiting tourists have also been reported.

Outside of Tibet Yaks live in Tibetan regions of Chinese Provinces (Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan) and in Mongolia. They have been exported across the world to New Zealand where they are bread for their meat and various other products.
This page was last updated on: July 10, 2017
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