Chang Tang Tibet

Chang Tang is located in the west of the of Tibetan Plateau, the top of the "Roof of the World". The average altitude of Chang Tang is over 4000m. In cold, dry weather, it is a typical alpine steppe and meadow ecosystem.

The Changtang region is a 700,000 km2 pristine area of the Tibetan Plateau, and one of the last great wild landscapes in the world. With the size of roughly Germany, Poland and Lithuania combined, it is a largely uninhabited land with rolling alpine steppe and snow-capped mountains. With elevations ranging from 4,300 to 7,000 m, the climate in Changtang is extremely cold and arid, yet it contains a wealth of unique and endangered wildlife. Habitat species include chiru, snow leopards, Tibetan wild ass (kiang), along with Tibetan brown bears, blue sheeps, Tibetan sand foxes, black-necked cranes, and wild yaks. In addition to wildlife, the Changtang region also harbors a unique and rapidly disappearing nomadic herding culture which, together with Tibet’s religious traditions, is of great importance for the humanking. Owing to these unique characteristics, the Changtang grassland has been designated a Global 200 Ecoregion by WWF, and is also listed as a priority conservation area in China’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2011-2031).

Conservation Challenges

Raising livestock provides the primary livelihood for the traditional Tibetan herder communities in the Changtang. However, grassland degradation driven by domestic livestock overgrazing and exacerbated by climate change is threatening both livelihoods and the wildlife of the region. Because of its aridity and altitude, Changtang is a fragile ecosystem highly vulnerable even to subtle changes in temperature and rainfall regimes. Over the last several decades the Changtang has warmed at nearly twice the rate of other landscapes, with consequent alterations to hydrological regimes and vegetation. These changes have altered the distribution and abundance of pasture suitable for grazing, increasingly bringing Tibetan herdsmen into areas critically important for wildlife. As these areas have been colonized, contact between wild ungulates and domestic livestock have increased, along with a concomitant increase in the amount of fencing, grazing pressure and potential for disease transmission. This situation has further escalated the human-wildlife conflict, and the competition between livestock and wild animals.

Conservation Approach

WCS has been working in the Changtang region since the 1980s, when the pioneering wildlife surveys conducted by George Schaller, WCS’s chief scientist, contributed to the creation of the world’s second-largest terrestrial nature reserve, the 298,000 km2 Changtang National Nature Reserve. In 2006, WCS launched a three-year project funded by ECBP (EU-China Biodiversity Programme) with the objectives of data mining, capacity development and sensitization. We have gathered data on the biodiversity and human distribution, trained nomadic herders, government staff at different levels, and local research institutes to empower their participation in the development and implementation of a coordinated ‘Changtang Region Landscape Conservation Management Plan.’ Through this project WCS has developed strong partnerships with the local agencies responsible for natural resource management, including the Tibetan Academy of Agriculture and Animal Sciences and the Tibetan Forestry Bureau.

More recently, WCS has been working with the Changtang National Nature Reserve Management Bureau of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Tibetan Academy of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Sciences, Tibetan Forestry Bureau, and Nyma County Forestry Bureau. These collaborations aimed at reducing human-wildlife conflict and increasing the resiliance of both communities and habitats. To achieve this WCS has supported the development of community-based models for sustainable livelihoods that incorporate also wildlife needs and grassland recovery into traditional pasture management practices.

Featured Stories

A young herdsman looking after his yaks.

A day together with a yak herdsman on the grasslands of Changtang.
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Chasing the Intruder

Chronicle of a wildlife-human conflict in Changtang, Tibet.
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Community-based wild yak conservation in Tibet

Read how WCS is succeeding in bringing nature conservation and economic development together to prot...
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Key Staff

Aili Kang
Country Program Director


WCS China West Project
Room 402, Unit 1, Building 16, Tianlukangsang Sub-district, Duodi Road 10, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region
+86 (0) 891 636 8574