|Aug.31, 2017-- August is the best time of year in Changtang in the north of Tibet Autonomous Region, with its gorgeous stretch of green grassland, but this summer some of that grassland is off limits to herders.
Over 5,000 people live in five villages in Changma township, in Nagqu prefecture in northern Tibet, where most areas are located at 5,000 meters above sea level.
At the Kyidra Buga village, there is a 2,000-hectare ranch, but it is only open to herders for three months a year.
"This is where we nurture the new-born calves and lambs. It is only open for pregnant animals before and after their birth. It is open to herding from early April to June," said Tamtar, who was Communist Party secretary of the village from 2013 to 2016. He now holds a post in the township.
The grassland is sealed off because it is also home to around 300 Tibetan antelopes, a first-grade protected animal species. Tibetan antelopes usually migrate between different grassland, but this group settled in October 1997 and never left.
"About 15 antelopes appeared in the ranch after a heavy snowstorm. They were crammed against each other for warmth. Outside the ranch, several sheep died of frost. I thought if I drove them away, they would surely die like those sheep," said Gatse, who is the Party secretary of the village.
"The grass at the ranch was of very good quality, and when the snow started to thaw, the grass showed. The hungry antelopes saw the grass and scaled the fence to come in," Gatse said.
He immediately reported the arrival of the antelopes to the government. In 1999, Gatse was appointed a part-time patroller to protect the animals. He receives a monthly stipend of 600 yuan (about 91 U.S. dollars) for his job.
The antelope population grew quickly.
"Some of the herders complain about why they should not herd on the ranch. I explained the government regulations and told them antelopes were symbols of auspiciousness," Gatse said.
Gatse needs to make four trips every month to the ranch to check the water, collect trash and help the antelopes where needed. Six other families were also hired by the government to help Gatse.
"For over 20 years, there was not a single incident of harming the animals. When we see an antelope which has died from natural causes, we disinfect and bury its remains. For male antelopes, I break their horns, for fear that poachers may dig them out and sell for profit," he said.
Ren Chuncheng, who works in the prefecture agriculture and herding bureau, said it was rare for Tibetan antelopes to settle in one area.
"They only do so in very good eco-environment, where there are few natural enemies and enough mating partners. In winter, herders leave grass feed for them so apparently they are willing to stay," he said.
According to government statistics, in the past 20 years the number of Tibetan antelopes has risen from about 40,000 to almost 200,000 on the plateau area.