Creating economic incentives for conservation in the Tibetan plateau

  • Wild yak roam in the Chang Tang region of the Tibetan Plateau. The pristine area is one of the last great wild landscapes in the world. It's also the second largest protected area on Earth, covering approximately 115,000 square miles. WCS

  • The climate in Chang Tang is extremely cold and arid, yet species live and thrive in the harsh environment. Tibetan antelope, also known as chiru, live among the high, flat regions of the plateau. Historically, their numbers have surpassed more than a million, but in the past decades poaching has reduced the population to less than 100,000. Wildlife Conservation Society

  • The Chinese government established the Chang Tang Nature Reserve as a direct result of WCS' Dr. George Schaller, who conducted field work in the Tibetan plateau in the 1980s. Today, WCS is working with local communities and Tibetan authorities to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures natural resources are protected in the Chang Tang region. Wildlife Conservation Society

  • Because of its aridity and altitude, Chang Tang is a fragile ecosystem highly vulnerable even to subtle changes in temperature and rainfall patterns. WCS aims to reduce the human-wildlife conflict in the Chang Tang region and increase the resilience of communities and habitats. Wildlife Conservation Society

On the remote Tibetan Plateau, the Chang Tang grasslands still harbor rare animals, like Tibetan antelope, wild yak, and snow leopard. It’s also a home to unique nomadic communities. But that’s changing. Local economic development is reaching this “roof of the world”.

In response, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has entered into an innovative partnership with local authorities and communities to establish conservation incentive agreements, which provide technical assistance and support for the program’s pilot communities, if they agree to embrace conservation-friendly changes including: (1) reducing livestock grazing to avoid clashes with wildlife; (2) opening corridors along pasture fences to allow wild animals to move more freely; (3) assisting government and reserve staff to improve patrol and monitoring capacity through a network of rangers recruited directly from local herding communities; (4) constructing predator-proof fences to reduce livestock loss; and (5) working with local communities, reserves, universities, and the corporate sector to create wildlife-friendly businesses (like the one focused on ecotourism, complete with full business plan).

While the Government already has a compensation program to mitigate livestock loss, it cannot reduce conflict directly, and is unsustainable due to the rising number of conflicts (common even in the U.S. where people move into wild animal territory). So rather than provide direct compensation, WCS’ new conservation incentive model offers more strategic incentives focused on the above-listed activities.

There is a healthy future for these incentive agreements because they require financial and in-kind contributions from the government and participating communities, which encourages everyone to think about how to use incentive funds and natural resources more sustainably. In just two years, this initiative is showing strong signs of acceptance by all stakeholders, which brings the hope of significant future benefits for this high, wild place, and the people who live here.

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