Chinese Compensation Scheme Saves Wild Predators, Reimburses Herdsmen

Life's tough up on the Tibetan Plateau whether you're a predator, prey, or a simple shepherd trying to protect the latter from the former. Nomadic herdsmen and their flocks have roamed the grassy steppes of the “roof of the world”, an area four times the size of France, from time immemorial.

Also roaming the plateau are predators, mainly Tibetan Wolves (left), brown bears and the endangered Snow Leopard. There isn't much prey sharing the rarefied air at an average 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level, so these large carnivores occasionally supplement their diets with livestock... to the dismay of their owners, who then take down the perpetrators at the first (and second, and third) opportunity.

The result? Wildlife populations were being reduced, ecosystems were thrown out of whack, and herdsmen were still suffering losses that so-called “revenge culling” wasn't making up for.

Biologists at regional forestry bureaus in southwestern China were aware of the problem and in 2006, with approval from their bosses in Beijing, put an innovative government-funded compensation scheme into effect. “The government's fund compensates based on the market price of livestock,” explained Cering Gava, a Tibetan herdsman from Nagqu prefecture. “The last time I lost a sheep, I got enough to buy 10 lambs and stuff to fix the sheep pen.”

Gava also doesn't have to expend energy and risk injury or worse chasing down predators in some of China's harshest environments. “It is not easy for wolves to survive the winter,” reflects Gava, who can afford to wax philosophic knowing his losses will be made good by the government.

Over the past five years, the program has provided approximately 59.88 million yuan ($9.4 million) to Tibetans who have lost livestock to attacks by wild predators. In the grand scheme of things, it's a small amount to pay for ecological harmony and “not mad” nomads. (via Shanghai Daily and China Tibet Online)