This past summer I did a post about my fascination with the vast, lonely high plains of Nevada. For the past few days I have been doing some exploring for possible future trips for Natural Habitat in Qinghai Province, an unknown region of western China. I am truly in awe with this harsh, beautiful frontier, and the presence of some of the the world’s most endangered wildlife. This is a region of nomadic yak herdsmen who have Buddhist beliefs that prevent the killing of animals, other than their own livestock for sustenance. Although grazing animals do compete with wildlife, there are some enormous nature reserves which are home to healthy populations of animals that few people have ever heard of. I honestly never believed I would ever see some of the some these creatures in the wild.
I have never been to anywhere in Asia that was as sparsely populated as Qinghai Province. Many times I felt like we were on some obscure highway in Northern Alaska or Canada. The weather is severe, often reaching -40 in the winter, winds are constant, and the elevation ranges between 14,000 and 16,000 feet, with much higher mountain peaks. It was quite difficult acclimating to the lack of oxygen, as time constraints didn’t allow us to step up gradually. We flew straight from the low Sichuan Basin, so it was quite a shock to our systems. I admire the animals that thrive in these conditions, all of which have special adaptions to the elevation and cold, such as thick coats, enlarged lungs, and high hemoglobin concentrations in their blood.
Exploring a region like Qinghai Province is a humbling experience. This is one of the few unknown regions of the planet guarded by weather, remoteness and elevation that resists human influence. Wildlife that most people have never heard of exist in some of the remoter corners, protected by Government law, isolation, and the beliefs of the Buddhist culture. I just caught a short glimpse of this magic frontier, and I cant wait to return to dig deeper. I stood against the buffeting wind, gasping for oxygen in the thin air and looked into the distance, up the rugged valleys to the snow covered peaks and dreamed of the large predators that can still be found here. Tibetan brown bears, tibetan wolves and snow leopards still reside in this wilderness, and that gave me comfort.