Course:FRST370/An Assessment of the Environmental and Social Processes in the Protection of the Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) in Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve, Tibetan Autonomous Region, China

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This case study assesses the environmental and social processes that were set into train in the protection of the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) in Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve, Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Between 1980s and 1990s, Tibetan antelope had become endangered because of massive illegal poaching, which prompted the establishing of this reserve base. The case study uses various documentations to explore how government, NGOs and Tibetan indigenous people participate in the conservation and management of Tibetan antelope and how they negotiate and compromise to optimize their own benefits. At the same time, different stakeholders and their relationships with the National Nature Reserve land are discussed in this case. A unique and successful law called regional ethnic autonomy for solving issues between indigenous people and government in Hoh Xil is mentioned. Considering the interests of minor groups, we use successful management case in West Bengal for reference and recommend the setting of an agreement like Joint Forest Management in India in Hoh Xil.

Basic information of the reserve

Geographical location

  • Hoh Xil is an isolated region in the northwestern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai Province, China. The region covers 83,000 square kilometers at an average elevation of 4,800 meters above sea level, stretches in a meridional (east-west) direction[1]. Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve covers 45,000 square kilometers at an average elevation of 4,600 meters[1].

Ecological environment conditions

  • Sometimes known as the "Third Pole" of the world, Hoh Xil has a frigid plateau climate, with sub-zero annual average temperatures and the lowest temperature occasionally reaching -45°C[2]. With the continuous process of geological formation, this region gradually formed a large area of planation surface and basins[2]. Hoh Xil shows an exceptional diversity of lake basins and inland lacustrine landscapes, which is the area with a high concentration of lakes on plateau[2].The unique geographical and climatic conditions of Hoh xil are the basis of the equally unique biodiversity: more than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals dependent on local environmental conditions are endemic to the plateau, and 60% of the mammal species are plateau-specific[2]. Yet it is a place that shows persistently changing geomorphological and ecological systems[2].

Endangered species- Tibetan antelope

Tibetan antelope in Hoh Xil

  • Almost 40% of the world's Tibetan antelopes are dependent on this land[2]. Hoh Xil provides the habitats and protects the natural processes of a complete life cycle of the Tibetan antelope, especially the phenomenon of females gathering together to give birth after a long migration[2]. Hoh Xil is one of the most important breeding grounds for Tibetan antelopes and each year flocks of them will move to Zhuonai Lake and Taiyang Lake to give birth[3]. The calving grounds in Hoh Xil support up to 30,000 animals each year, including almost 80% of the identified birth congregation areas in the entire antelope range[2]. During the winter, some 40,000 Tibetan antelopes live in this area, taking up 20-40% of the global population[2].

Tibetan antelope poaching

  • Because of the frigid alpine environment, they produce the finest and most expensive wool in the world called shahtoosh[4]. Unfortunately, the very quality that makes the Tibetan antelope irreplaceable also threatened its existence[4]. As a rising demand for shahtoosh by the fashion industry, Tibetan antelope poaching was alarming increase which reduced the population of Tibetan antelope, once estimated to number more than million, to approximately 70,000 animals[4]. In 1997, Tibetan antelope is Class One Protected Species under China's national legislation[4].

Early Stage (1995-2016)

Important Events

  • In 1995, the Qinghai provincial government listed the area as a provincial nature reserve and announced it in 1996[5].
  • In December 1997, the State Council approved and announced the area as a national nature reserve[5].
  • In September 1999, it was renamed "Qinghai Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve"[5].

Tenure arrangements

According to the provisions of The Measures for The Administration of Land in Nature Reserves (promulgated by the State Administration of Land and the Former State Environmental Protection Bureau in 1995), land within nature reserves shall be owned by the state or the community in accordance with the law[6]. Users of state-owned land and owners of collective land in natural protection areas shall, in accordance with the state laws and regulations on the administration of land, apply to the land administrative departments of the local people's governments at or above the county level for land registration and obtain land certificates[6]. The ownership and use right of land determined shall not be altered because of the delimitation of nature reserves[6].

Administrative Arrangements

  • According to Regulations of the People's Republic of China on nature reserves, national nature reserves are administered by the competent administrative department of nature reserves under the people's government of the province, autonomous region or municipality, or directly by the competent administrative department of nature reserves under the state council[7]. The administrative departments of the relevant nature reserves set up special administrative agency within the nature reserves with professional and technical personnel who should be responsible for the specific administration of the nature reserves[7].
  • Qinghai Hoh Xil national nature reserve administration has set up an administrative office, a protection management section and a planning and finance section. And it established the forest public security department of Hoh Xil national nature reserve[5].
  • Four protection stations were established to enforce the protection of Tibetan antelope, wild yak and other wild animals, and they are  responsible for monitoring the Tibetan antelope migration and return migration and other activities[5]. They are Wudaoliang Protection Station, Ice-free Spring Protection Station, Tuotuo River Protection Station and Kunan Scientific Research Station (including three ecological monitoring stations) with 35 employees[5]. Administratively, it is under the leadership of the People's Government of Yushu Prefecture but managed by Qinghai Forestry Bureau in the execution[5].
  • Patrols in nature reserve administration: At the beginning, the management office of Hoh Xil had only administrative enforcement power, but no criminal enforcement power[8]. They had no money to buy guns and borrowed two guns from the forest public security department. Several holsters were purchased from the army, armed with empty holsters to frighten poachers[8].
  • Self-organized patrol:Founded in 1995, "Wild Yak Team" initially recruited more than 60 veterans and unemployed youth from the society[8]. The team was not properly equipped and some of the guns were turned over to the criminals[8]. Strictly speaking, it is just a temporary anti-poaching team with no law enforcement power[8]. Within a year, more than 40 people had gone, and after the establishment of Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve Administration in Golmud, the "wild yak team" was incorporated into the administration in August 1999[8].

Main stakeholders

Conflicts: construction of Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Highway

  • The local government, the transportation agencies and the NGOs have different interests, and the lack of trust is the greatest threat to their relationship[9].The local government doubts that the NGOs have sufficient capacity, and the conservation actions sometimes may hurt the profits of the transportation agency[9].
  • The best way to overcome these conflicts among different stakeholders is to bring them together and to do something together, such as a workshop which gives them opportunities to communicate with each other[9].
  • Different stakeholders negotiated for a long time and eventually proposed a relatively reasonable plan of constructing railway with animal corridors.[9] However, as it was the first time that animal safe passages have been used in the railway construction in China, these agencies have almost no useful scientific information and experience about it until recently, it is still lack of methodical studies[9]. The railway was scheduled to begin operating in 2006.
  • The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest and longest plateau railway in the world, is 1,956 kilometers long. It went across three main national nature reserves and two of them were especially designed for Tibetan Antelopes. The newly built Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR) from Golmod to Lasha is just across Tibetan Antelope’s migrating pathway on the border of HXNR and Sanjiangyuan Reserve. In order to ensure the Tibetan Antelopes and other species pass through the railway smoothly, 15 passages like overpass, underpass and bridges were contributed in the reserve[9].
  • Although Tibetan Antelope were much disturbed in the rail construction period, they readily adapted to the crossing structures after the railway was put into operation, the efficiency of wildlife passages have improved significantly in Tibetan migration from 56.06% to 100%[9].

Late Phase (2016-Now)

Important events

  • In April 2016, Qinghai Province held a meeting to plan the pilot project of Sanjiangyuan National Park, and proposed to build it within 5 years[10]. Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve was subsumed into the Sanjiangyuan National Park.
  • On January 26, 2018, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) specified that Sanjiangyuan national park will be officially established by 2020[11].

Tenure arrangements

Natural resources ownership of Sanjiangyuan national park is directly exercised by the central government[12]. During the period of pilot, the government of Qinghai province is entrusted to act on behalf of the government. Sanjiangyuan national park authority dispatches agencies for QingHai provincial government to take Qinghai Sanjiangyuan national nature reserve management duties within the scope of all kinds of state-owned natural resources assets owners[12].

Administrative arrangements

The conservation and management of the property will be guided by the Qinghai Hoh Xil Property Management Plan[2]. The property benefits from an integrated management agency that coordinates efforts from central, provincial, municipal, and local authorities[2]. Sufficient staff with multiple background and relevant experience will be provided to guarantee the conservation and management of the property[2]. The management scheme has been changed after the release of overall plan of Sanjiangyuan National Park.

Main Stakeholders

Government ('interested' stakeholder)

Plan and Management

According to the overall plan, the government implements a zoning management in Sanjiangyuan national park, including primary zoning and secondary zoning:

  • In the primary zoning, the land is divided into core conservation areas, traditional use areas and ecological restoration areas:The core conservation area is the basic ecological area to maintain the function of the natural ecosystem and implement stricter protection[12].The traditional use area is an area outside the core conservation area of the national park, and it is the traditional living and production space of the local herdsmen, and the area to receive the population, industries which are transferred from the core conservation area[12]. Ecological restoration area is the severely degraded grassland area: in the degraded grassland and sandy land, soil erosion should be prevented and controlled, and natural conservation and restoration shall be strengthened[12].
  • In the secondary zoning, each of the areas above is subdivided into core area, buffer area, experimental area, non-nature conservation area[12].

In order to meet the control requirements and the conservation objectives of the natural heritage sites, the major area in Hoh Xil World Natural Heritage Site is classified into the core conservation area to implement stricter protection[12].

Specific management and control measures for core conservation area:

  • Complete prohibition of productive animal husbandry activities[12];
  • Strengthen the monitoring of wildlife and their habitats, carry out regular evaluation, and explore an effective compensation system for wildlife protection[12];
  • Strictly control human activities and prohibit the construction of all artificial facilities unrelated to ecological protection according to the world natural heritage management and control standards[12];
  • There are no ecological experience points, but scientific research and environmental education activities can be carried out relying on ecological monitoring points[12];
  • Do not plan new roads except necessary roads for patrol[12].

Relevant regulations

  • the administration of Hoh Xil Natural Heritage Sites shall protect the habitats and natural migration routes of wildlife and ensure that the living environment and habits of wildlife are not destroyed or disturbed by human beings[13]. The site selection of a construction project approved in accordance with the law shall avoid giving way to wildlife habitats and natural migration routes, and construction projects that cannot avoid crossing wildlife habitats and natural migration routes shall be fully demonstrated, scientifically designed and rationally constructed[13].
  • the administrative department of railways shall take protective measures in the Hoh Xil Natural Heritage Site and its buffer zone to prevent wildlife from entering the locomotive driving area[13].
  • the administrative agency of Hoh Xil Natural Heritage Site shall organize local residents to participate in the protection and administration of natural heritage sites and guide and train local residents to adopt production and lifestyles beneficial to the protection of natural heritage sites[13].

The local herders ('affected' stakeholder)

The issues with wildlife

Livestock and wild animals compete for forage resources, which threatens the original ecological environment of heritage sites and the normal propagation of wild animals[14]. On the one hand, excessive grazing causes the reduction and contraction of the habitat mass and further leads to the decrease of the distribution area of wild animals[14]. On the other hand, widespread herdsmen and livestock are prone to conflict with wild animals and hybridization between domestic animals and wild animals leads to genetic pollution, which have a negative impact on heritage value[14].


Considering the protection of biodiversity in heritage sites, the amount and range of pastoralists' grazing will be limited to some extent[14]. In order to enhance participation, the Qinghai Hoh Xil Property Management Plan recognizes and actively involves local Tibetan herders living in the property and buffer zone in conservation, management, and educational efforts. Therefore, this series of measures is proposed to further integrate the future development of herdsmen into regional sustainable development through tourism participation, government compensation and decrease of livestock, and gradually reduce the impact of production from herdsmen on heritage sites[12].

The involvement of NGOs ('interested' stakeholder)

  • In 2017, the UNESCO world heritage committee announced that Hoh Xil in Qinghai Province was officially included in the world natural heritage list[10].
  • As the organization which provides technical evaluation for UNESCO, IUCN ('interested' stakeholder) proposed request and recommendation:

IUCN considers that it is imperative that State Party should address questions of rights, access and traditional use rigorously and carefully, in full consultation, and the World Heritage nomination must not be used to justify any deprivation of traditional land use rights of the concerned communities[15].

IUCN further suggests that the management plan should strengthen specific sections on traditional use, and that the revision of the plan involves an enhanced level of consultation and the direct involvement of representatives of the traditional herding community in governance and decision-taking[15].  

  • In response to concerns raised, the State Party has stated definitely that forced relocation or exclusion of the traditional users of the nominated site will not emerge, whether before or after succeeding in the application for World Heritage site. It will be important that this commitment is put into practice in full[15].


The protection of the Tibetan antelope in Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve is successful and instructive, which can provide reference for other projects of protecting wildlife. Firstly, it has basically solved the problem of serious poaching of the Tibetan antelope and protected the fragile ecological environment to give Tibetan antelope as well as other endemic species a favorable habitat. Now around 60,000 Tibetan antelopes live in the area of the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve, and they are able to wander freely around the region, without fear of being killed[16]. During the process of the protection, the conflicts among different affected and interested stakeholders were well reconciled and addressed. Furthermore, in 2017, Hoh Xil in Qinghai Province was approved for inclusion in the world heritage list, becoming China's 51st world heritage site, which is a greater accomplishment on the basis of original objectives. Under the support of governments, communities, NGOs, and research institutions, Hoh Xil will achieve a sustainable development goal for a long time.

One conflict was among the economic development of Hoh Xil and life security of Tibetan Antelope. Then local government, NGOs, transportation agency negotiated for a long time and decided to construct railway with animal corridors. The result was satisfactory. All of these stakeholders derived benefits from this and the life security of Tibetan Antelope was guaranteed. The other conflict is that those herdsmen who abandon grasslands and move into towns cannot afford the high price food. To relieve this conflict, the central government of China can distribute subsidy to them.


The practice of regional ethnic autonomy in Hoh Xil is a unique management way. It has played an enormous role in developing socialist ethnic relations featuring equality, solidarity and mutual assistance and in consolidating national unity. The organs of self-government of Hoh Xil have the right to adopt special policies and flexible measures on the basis of the local conditions and the principle that the constitution and laws are not violated. Tibetan persons' rights have not been deprived such as the rights of using their language. Textbooks and lectures can use minority language, but the use of mandarin and standardized Chinese characters is required at the same time[17].

Although the self- government in Hoh Xil ensures the bundle of rights of Tibetan persons, some local policies sometimes will neglect minority people's interests. The management way of Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve is complicated since it must consider the interests of different stakeholders such as NGOs, government and Tibetan indigenous, and find trade-offs. We hope that in the process of implementing the management plan, the consequence will satisfy every stakeholder.


Considering the current situation in Hoh Xil, we conceive that the policy in West Bengal can be applied to Hoh Xil. An agreement like Joint Forest Management whose role is to manage collaboration between foresters and local government can be set in Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve. On the one hand, it gives Tibetan dignity and recognition of citizens. What is more, with the development of Hoh Xil under the protection of the environment, the living quality of Tibetan will improve and they will get long term benefits, especially their future generations. On the other hand, as an intermediary agreement, it helps balance the issues between government and Tibetan and relieve conflicts.


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  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Xia Zhang Wu Wu Zhu Zhu Lai Li, Lin Qian Yongjie Yonghua Lei Long Ge Yongbo (2010). "L060107 Monitoring and Conservation of Tibetan Antelopes and Other Mid-large Sized Mammals Along Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Highway" (PDF).
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve". Baidu Baike. 2019.
  11. "Sanjiangyuan National Park". Baidu Baike. 2019.
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  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Regulations on the protection of Hoh Xil Natural Heritage in Qinghai Province". Qinghai Forestry and Grassland Bureau. 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Yu Li Deng Wen, Han Ze Wugong Cheng (2017). "Study and practice on the conservation and management planning of the world natural heritage in Hoh Xil, Qinghai". Research on Heritages and Preservation. Vol.2 No.7 Dec. 2017.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Advisory body evaluation (IUCN): Qinghai Hoh Xil (China) – Id N° 1540". IUCN. 2017.
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  17. "Law of the People's Republic of China on regional ethnic autonomy". The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China. July 29, 2005.

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This conservation resource was created by Zhiyi Lin; Yiqi Yan. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.