Park rangers brave hardship to fight off poachers
Songtsen Langbo, a member of the Hol Xil National Nature Reserve patrol team, knows all there is to know about the unforgiving weather on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau — yet a patrol last month still nearly cost him his life.
For 11 days, he and five colleagues found themselves trapped by mud and snow in the 60,000-square-km reserve in Northwest China’s Qinghai province.
“We were on our way back from a 25-day patrol, and our jeeps got stuck in the mud,” said Langbo, who has led the nature reserve’s fourth patrol group sinceMay.
The group are tasked with catching poachers and illegal miners, and must complete their main patrol before winter.
Two other teams came to their rescue, but their vehicles also got stuck.
“We had to abandon our vehicles and we were totally exhausted. I was struggling to breathe at certain points,” Langbo said.
“We ran out of fuel and food, and our satellite phones were not working. We had no choice but to walk several miles.”
Altogether, six vehicles were severely damaged in the incident and three remain trapped in the mud.
Located about 4,500 meters above sea level, the Hol Xil National Nature Reserve is home to many protected species, including Tibetan antelopes, wild yaks and wild ass. It also has about 7,000 lakes.
“It is not unusual for teams to be trapped for a day or two, but more than that is not only rare, but rather risky,” said Buchung, chief of the reserve management committee.
In the last five years, the reserve has reported more than a dozen instances of teams getting trapped in the wild, he said.
“Many of our patrollers work in extremely harsh conditions, which compromise their health. Added to this, are threats of violence from poachers,” Buchung said.
He said the patrolling jobs are dangerous and some rangers have died in the past, such as Sonam Daje, a Tibetan official who was killed by poachers about 20 years ago.
Despite this, the rangers continue to deter poachers and protect the rare species in the reserve, especially Tibetan antelopes, whose numbers once shrank to less than 20,000 due to rampant poaching.
Intensive anti-poaching efforts have increased the animal’s population to 70,000, and no killings have been reported for 10 consecutive years in the reserve.
“My family is very proud of me, but they don’t know how risky my job can get,” said Lhundrup Tsegye, 28.