Ecologists Elated by Returning Desert Wolves

Xinhua News Agency / November 11, 2002


Herdsmen around Badain Jaran, China's second largest desert, are losing their flocks to marauding wolves, but ecological experts are celebrating.

Oqir, an official with Yabrai Village of Alxa Right Banner, in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region , said more than 300 lambs and 100 camels had been attacked by wild wolves in the last three years.

Gao Jinxiang, a herdsman, lost more than 60 sheep in one attack. Li Meiying said wolves killed 80 of her lambs and more than 20 camels.

"Herdsmen fear wolves but we cannot shoot them as those wolves are under second-class state protection," Li said.

But locals can still find effective countermeasures. Nowadays, when wolves menace the flocks, herdsmen will light torches and set off firecrackers to scare them away. The braver herdsmen even ride their motorcycles at the beasts to drive them off.

The local government has also called on herdsmen to improve their grazing methods.

Previously, the flocks of sheep were kept separate, but now they are encouraged to graze together so that the guard is stronger.

Ecologists see the re-emergence of wolves in the Badain Jaran desert and its surrounding areas as a sign of the improving environment, rather than a menace to the herds-men's livelihoods.

Located in the west of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Badain Jaran covers an area of 47,000 square kilometers, where people have lived by grazing their herds and hunting for generations.

The desert was once home to many animals, including wolves, hawks, foxes, wild geese and swans, but most vanished through over-hunting.

In a bid to revive the desert, the Chinese government has enacted a series of laws and regulations to ban hunting and its efforts have paid off.
In recent years, much of the lost wildlife has re-emerged, especially wolves, whose numbers have increased steeply.

Yuan Qing, a research fellow with the Institute of Grasslands at China's Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said the increase in wolf numbers indicated that the local ecological system was returning to normal.

He attributed the re-emergence of wolves to the restored food chain, which consists of a variety of plants, rodents and carnivores.

He pointed out that the restoration of many different plants was the key necessity of the food chain.

Local herdsmen say dozens of shrubs and grasses, such as liquorice and ephedrines, grow well in Badain Jaran, encouraging more rainfall in the area.

Statistics show that the rain season of 2002 saw more than 100 millimeters fall, twice the average figure of recent decades.

Experts note that successful desertification control and ecological restoration could mean an end to the severe annual sandstorms that originate in Inner Mongolia and envelope the country's capital.