Summer season in Changtang © WCS/Tsering Paldron
It is summer in Changtang, the most beautiful season on the Tibetan plateau. Rain has covered in green the vast grassland once again, and pastel-colored mountains now decorate the horizon. This is also the high season for human wild yak conflict as it is also the mating season for Tibetan wild yaks. The risks of inter-breeding with domestic yaks run high in this season and is a major source of concern for both herders and conservationists.
In August, the Wildlife Conservation Society – with support from Save Our Species – has visited the Garco community for the third time over this project period. The most important objective of our project has been achieved during this trip: we have signed cooperation agreements with local yak herders for implementing mitigation solutions for the existing conflict between wildlife and human activities.
When we arrived, all herdsmen were gathering for the local horse racing festival, which is one of the biggest festivals in Changtang. The festival lasted four days featuring folk dances, horse races, and other traditional activities.
Signature of the agreements © WCS/Tsering Paldron
After thorough discussions with the local government and community of Garco, we succeeded in signing an agreement valid for two years restricting herding teams from grazing in an area densely populated by wild yaks. During 2013 and 2014, between July and September (the yak mating season), approximately 510 domestic yaks (2012 census) will be grazed southwest of Garco Village, approximately 20km away from the usual summer pasture of around 50 km2 near Xiyaer Mountain. This is expected to reduce the overlap between domestic and wild yaks in an area as large as 300km2 inhabited by approximately 400-500 wild yaks. During our previous field visits, we observed 268 wild yaks in this area, including two large female groups with calves (151 and 90 individuals respectively).
A lonely wild yak © WCS/Wan Zhikang
Through this innovative agreement we will help reduce the occurrence of mating between wild and domestic yaks, thus further lowering the risk of interbreeding, and also help wild yaks claim back additional portions of their original habitat. In order to assess the effectiveness and impact of this approach WCS will continue to closely monitor the wild yak population and assess the level of conflict with human communities and of interbreeding with domestic yaks.
“This project is not only good for wild yaks, it also good for the people.” Lausanne Dorje – head of Garco village – while explaining the WCS initiative to local herdsmen. This agreement has been reached after intense negotiations, during which the project team has liaised with all the 45 families in the community, detailing the purpose and benefits of this conservation project, and collecting their remarks. The initial resistance of herders towards our initiative stemmed from the historical hatred towards wild yaks, considered a plague for their business. After gaining support from community leaders and demonstrating concrete actions in support for the community development, we persuaded five of the twelve yak herding teams to accept our proposed set of incentives and commit to collaborate with us, and three also to relocate their grazing lands.
Domestic Yak herding and milking activities © WCS/Lianghai Tang
Another main component of WCS’ holistic approach towards wild yak conservation is actively promoting the sustainable development of local Tibetan communities. We believe that encouraging the diversification of livelihoods is an important means of enhancing project sustainability, and can reduce the pressure on wild habitats caused by increasing livestock numbers.
Based on discussions with inhabitants and government agencies, WCS has agreed with local partners to invest $16,400 (RMB 100,000) for setting up a small factory, a grocery, and an electricity generator. The factory will be used to process Tsampa (Tibetan traditional staple foodstuff) for local consumption by the community, and trading of the surplus, if any. WCS will provide the factory premises and an electric generator, while the Garco community will purchase the machinery and necessary food processing equipment.
WCS strategically provides incentives to local communities to diversify their livelihoods and move away from herding activities in order to ease the pressure on wild yak’s habitat. The performance data WCS will collect during the two years of the current pilot project period will be instrumental for informing future conservation strategies of government authorities in Changtang.
We believe that the introduction of buffer zones and exclusive pasture areas for wild yaks may considerably enhance the effectiveness of the current conservation scheme. At present, despite wild yaks are legally protected against poaching, and herder communities benefit from monetary compensation of losses caused by their interference, still competition for quality pastures and interbreeding due to traditional herding practices continue to hinder wild yak conservation.
Will Tibetan wild yaks see their original habitat restored? We cannot answer for sure yet, but we will certainly continue to work towards this goal with our passion and the financial support from Save Our Species.
Written by: Zhao Xiaoyan (赵晓艳)
Edited by: Ramacandra Wong