Hoh Xil (Kekexili) National Nature Reserve, one of the largest no man’s land in China and a part of the Sanjiangyuan National Park in Northwest China’s Qinghai Province, is a paradise for wildlife.
Mysterious highland wild animals such as Tibetan antelopes and kiangs are frequently seen near roads in the nature reserve located at an average elevation of over 4,888.1 meters near the mountain peaks at the source of the Yangtze River.
Although people in passing vehicles stop to take pictures from time to time, Tibetan antelopes in the area keep grazing leisurely.
“When I first came to the Sonam Dargye protection station in Hoh Xil in 2006, tourists often asked us how come they couldn’t see any Tibetan antelope around,” recalled Lhundrup Tsegyel, deputy head of Sonam Dargye protection station.
“Today, they always come to us with the pictures of various animals they’ve taken at the roadside and ask us what these animals are,” he added.
The 31-year-old man has worked in the protection station for 14 years and become very familiar with the history and various tasks of the protection station, such as patrolling mountains as well as rescuing and protecting Tibetan antelopes.
The Sonam Dargye protection station was named after Sonam Dargye, a martyr who died protecting Tibetan antelopes in the 1990s.
In recent years, the population of Tibetan antelopes in Hoh Xil has increased from less than 20,000 at one time to more than 70,000 now.
Protecting Tibetan antelopes has always been a major task for environmental protection in Hoh Xil.
Thanks to the efforts of generations of rangers like Lhundrup Tsegyel, not one single shot has been fired by poachers in Hoh Xil since 2006.
Still, the work of these rangers could be very dangerous.
“Going deep into the no man’s land to patrol mountains and combat poaching were important tasks of the protection station when it was first established and an important part of our duties all along,” said Lhundrup Tsegyel.
The publicity and education exhibition hall of the protection station shows many photos of the rangers patrolling mountains. In most of the photos, they were pushing, lifting or repairing their vehicles.
The greatest difficulty in patrolling mountains in Hoh Xil is the roads, according to Lhundrup Tsegyel.
“There is actually no road in the mountains and our car often gets stuck in the mire. Sometimes we have to put our sandbags, and even our tents and clothes under the wheels in the mud to get the car out,” he explained.
After their tents and clothes are all ruined in the mud, they would simply sleep on a dry ground at night, said Lhundrup Tsegyel, adding that they would crash in their Jeep car when it is cold or there are wild animals around.
Although Lhundrup Tsegyel described their experience in a relaxed way, the difficulties they have to overcome during patrol tasks in the mountains, which often last for over a month, are what ordinary people can’t imagine.
With an elevation of more than 5,000 meters, the area under the Bokalik Tagh peak in the core area of the nature reserve has rather harsh natural environment. The air at such high altitudes has less oxygen, and the temperature of the desolate area can often drop to as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius at night. In addition, no signal could be found in the area.
When asked whether he considered leaving the protection station and find an easier job, Lhundrup Tsegyel said that he had actually taken delight in his work.
The Hoh Xil wildlife rescue center has been incorporated into the Sonam Dargye protection station, which means rescuing and protecting injured wild animals is one of the daily routines of members in the station, according to Lhundrup Tsegyel.
“Stray Tibetan antelope calves could hardly survive in the wild by themselves, so we usually bring them back to the protection station, raise them until they are about one year old, and then release them into the wild,” he disclosed.
Lhundrup Tsegyel has become quite good at raising Tibetan antelope calves. “We usually boil milk for them and always test the temperature before feeding them,” he said.
“Every day, we need to check their feces and take them for a walk during the day to keep their spirits up,” noted the ranger.
Statistics suggest that members at the protection station have rescued a total of over 100 Tibetan antelopes. They have also saved many injured or stray wild yaks, kiangs, and manuls among other animals.