Culture & Art - Tibet

    Information table

    Size 2.5 million sq. km
    Capital Lhasa
    Population 6 million Tibetans and an estimated 7.5 million Chinese, most of whom are in Kham and Amdo
    Language Tibetan (of the Tibeto-Burmese language family), the official language is Chinese
    Staple food Tsampa (roasted barley flour)
    National drink Salted butter tea
    Typical animals Wild yak, Bharal (blue) sheep, Musk deer, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, Kyang (wild ass), Pica
    Typical birds Black necked crane, Lammergeier, Great crested grebe, Bar-headed goose, Ruddy shel duck, Ibis-bill
    Major environmental problems Rampant deforestation in Eastern Tibet, poaching of large mammals
    Average altitude 14,000 ft.
    Highest mountain Chomo Langma (Mt. Everest) 29, 028 ft.
    Average rainfall Varies widely. In the west it is 1 mm in Jan. to 25 mm in July. In the east, it is 25-50 in Jan. and 800 in July
    Average temperature July 58 f; Jan. 24 f.
    Mineral deposits Borax, uranium, iron, chromite, gold
    Major rivers Mekong, Yangtse, Salween, Tsangpo, Yellow
    Economy Tibetans: predominantly in agriculture and animal husbandry / Chinese: predominantly in government, commerce and the service sector
    Provinces U-Tsang (Central Tibet), Amdo (N.E. Tibet), Kham (S.E. Tibet)
    Bordering countries India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, China
    National flag Snow lions with red and blue rays. Outlawed in Tibet
    Political and religious leader The 14th Dalai Lama, in exile in Dharamsala, India
    Government in exile Parliamentary
    Government Communist
    Relationship with the P.R.C Colonial
    Legal status Occupied

    The historic map of Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion

    Tibet lies at the centre of Asia, with an area of 2.5 million square kilometers. The earth's highest mountains, a vast arid plateau and great river valleys make up the physical homeland of 6 million Tibetans. It has an average altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level.
    Tibet is comprised of the three provinces of Amdo (now split by China into the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu & Sichuan), Kham (largely incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai), and U-Tsang (which, together with western Kham, is today referred to by China as the Tibet Autonomous Region).

    The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) comprises less than half of historic Tibet and was created by China in 1965 for administrative reasons. It is important to note that when Chinese officials and publications use the term "Tibet" they mean only the TAR.
    Tibetans use the term Tibet to mean the three provinces described above, i.e., the area traditionally known as Tibet before the 1949-50 invasion.

    Despite over 40 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Tibetan people refuse to be conquered and subjugated by China. The present Chinese policy, a combination of demographic and economic manipulation, and discrimination, aims to suppress the Tibetan issue by changing the very character and the identity of Tibet and its people.
    Today Tibetans are outnumbered by Han Chinese population in their own homeland.

    Source : The Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London. Last updated: 30-Sept-96

    Chronologic mark

    The facts

    Tibet existed as an independent state for almost two thousand years before the communist Chinese invaded and occupied the country in 1949.
    Tibet is situated at the very heart of Asia between China and India, covering a total area of 2,5 million sq. Km. It is inhabited by the Tibetan people with a culture and way of life totally different from that of the peoples of the neighbouring countries. Tibetans have developed a unique and extremely rich culture and spiritual tradition, a distinct language and a large body of literature and exquisite works of art. Tibetan civilization, which goes back to thousands of years is a sophisticated and valuable contribution to the heritage of mankind.

    Today, it is in danger of complete destruction at the hands of the Chinese authorities. Tibet’s culture and national identity are being systematically destroyed and replaced by Chinese substitutes. More than 1.2 million Tibetans, about one sixth of the total population, have died in Tibet since 1949 due to political persecution, imprisonment, torture and famine. Over 6000 of Tibet’s rich religious and other cultural centres have been destroyed. His Holiness the Dalaï Lama, spiritual and political leader of the six million Tibetans was forced to leave Tibet in 1959 and seek asylum in India. Around 85 000 Tibetan refugees followed him at that time and sought refuge primarily in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

    The status of Tibet

    Tibet was an independent country in fact and law prior to the Chinese invasion in 1949. Throughout its history Tibet possessed all the attributes of independent statehood recognized under international law. It has a defined territory, a population inhabiting that territory, a government, and the ability to enter into international relations. The territory of Tibet largely corresponds to the geological plateau of Tibet, which consists of 2.5 million square kilometres.

    The population of Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion was over six million. That population constituted the people, a distinct race with a long history, rich culture and spiritual tradition. The Government of Tibet was headquartered in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. It consisted of a Head of State (His Holiness the Dalaï Lama), a Cabinet of Minister (the Kashag), a National Assembly (the Tsongdu), and an extensive bureaucracy to administer the territory of Tibet. Tibet had its own legal system, a standing national army, postal system, national currency and conducted international relations and trade. The international relations of Tibet were focused on its neighbours. Tibet maintained diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with countries in the region such as Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Mongolia, China, India, and, to a limited extend, with Russia and Japan. Tibet’s independent foreign policy is perhaps most obviously demonstrated by the country’s neutrality during World War II. Despite strong pressure from Britain, the U.S.A. and China when Japan blocked the strategic Burma Road, Tibet held fast to its declared neutrality. The Allies were constrained to respect this stand.

    The invasion of Tibet

    The turning point in Tibet’s history came in 1949, when the People’s Liberation Army of People’s Republic of China first crossed into Tibet. After defeating the small Tibetan army and occupying half the country the Chinese Government imposed the so-called ’17-point agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ on the Tibetan Government in May 1951. Because it was signed under duress, the agreement lacked validity under international law.

    As open resistance to the Chinese occupation escalated, particularly in eastern Tibet, the Chinese repression, which included the destruction of religious buildings and the imprisonment of monks and other community leaders, increased dramatically. By 1959, popular uprisings culminated in massive demonstrations in Lhasa. By the time China crushed the uprising, 87 000 Tibetans were dead in the Lhasa region alone, and His Holiness the Dalaï Lama had to leave Tibet.

    Tibet and India

    Tibet’s relation with India throughout history had been very close and friendly, especially from the seventh century when Buddhism came there from India. Since then, the people of Tibet looked to India for spiritual guidance. Ancient Tibetan texts refer to India as Arya Bhumi, The Exalted land. Describing Tibet’s relation with India, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia said, "Tibet has stronger ties with India than China, ties of language and trade and culture, not to speak of the strategic affinities between India and Tibet..."

    For centuries, Tibet served as an effective buffer zone between India and China. But all this changed after the Communist Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. In 1950, when Tibet’s biggest eastern town of Chamdo fell to the Chinese, the Indian Consular in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, sent an urgent message to New Delhi, which, in retrospect, turned out to be prophetic. He wrote, "The Himalayas have ceased to exist. The Chinese have invaded Tibet". He meant that the northern borders of India were no longer secure from external aggressions. In a Lok Sabha debate on May 8, 1959, Acharya Kriplani stated, "We are intimately concerned, because China has destroyed a buffer state. In international politics, when buffer state is destroyed by a powerful nation, that nation is considered to have committed aggression against its neighbours".

    India accorded recognition to China in 1949. In 1954, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while discussing on Panchsheel Agreement with China in the Parliament, wished that India should have accorded this recognition to Tibet instead of China and that there would be no Sino-Indian border conflict. With the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Indian and Chinese troops faced each other on the Himalayan border for the first time in history. The first ever bloody war between the two countries was fought in 1962. When Tibet was free, India had only some 1 500 personnel to police its long borders with Tibet. Today India is estimated to be spending Rupees 55 crores to 65 crores per day to guard the same borders against over 300 000 Chinese troops stationed in what the Chinese call “Tibet Autonomous Region” and which comprises only about half of the Tibetan territory, the other half being merged with adjoining Chinese provinces.

    Destruction of Tibetan identity

    The Chinese authorities systematically tried to destroy the very identity of the Tibetan people by religious persecution, consistent violations of human rights, the wholesale destruction of religious and historic buildings, destruction of environment, militarization of the country and the transfer of millions of Chinese population into Tibet.

    Population transfer

    The most critical threat confronting the Tibetan people is the massive influx of Chinese civilians into Tibet. The influx, which has its roots in early Communist directives, is assimilating Tibet and Tibetans into China. It has now reached a point where the distinct identity of the Tibetan people and their ancient civilisation is being overwhelmed, and its continued separate existence in jeopardy. Today, the six million Tibetan people has been outnumbered by the 7.5 million Chinese population in Tibet. In Lhasa before 1950 there were hardly any Chinese. Today the ratio between Chinese and Tibetans is roughly 3/1. Out of 12 827 shops and restaurants, less than 300 are owned by Tibetans. In the Tibetan province of Amdo, which is now turned into a Chinese province called Quinghai, to quote China’s own statistic, out of the total population of 4.45 million in 1990 only 20 % were Tibetans and rest were Chinese.

    As a result of population transfer, Tibetans are generally marginalized in economic, political and social spheres. However, the most serious impact is on the long-term identity of the Tibetan people as a distinct people and culture. Besides, China’s policy of coercive birth control in Tibet also threatens the Tibetan identity. Till date, thousands of Tibetan women in Tibet have undergone forced abortion and sterilisation. The massive change in demographic balance thus created also has serious consequences for peace and security in the region. Once Tibet is filled with Chinese, its historical position as a buffer zone of peace will disappear.

    Systematic destruction of Tibetan culture and identity

    From the very beginning of the invasion of Tibet Chinese started undermining the Tibetan culture and religion. Soon this escalated into the dreaded “struggle session” in which religious figures and local leaders were tortured and murdered. Over 6 000 buddhist monasteries have been destroyed. All religious statues and artefacts were either destroyed or stolen. Chinese policy is aimed at bringing about a gradual and natural death of Tibetan culture and religion.

    Destruction of Environment

    Under the Chinese rule, the systematic destruction of environment of Tibet is unprecedented. The rich wildlife, forests, plants, minerals and water resources have all suffered irreplaceable degradation and Tibet’s fragile ecological balance is being seriously disturbed.
    Research indicate that the Chinese authorities denuded some 54 billion dollars worth timber at the end of 1985 from the rich forest reserves of Tibet. In Amdo province alone, nearly 50 million trees have been felled since 1955 and million of acres of forest amounting to at least 70 % cleared. A similar condition prevails in other parts of Tibet, particularly in eastern and southern Tibet.
    Tibet is the source of all major rivers in Asia. The deforestation of Tibet has led to the silting of rivers, causing floods in the neighbouring countries, including china itself. In 1987-88, Brahmaputra river caused 35 % or more of total flooding in India. The deforestation in Tibet also increases the risk of imbalancing the monsoon which then may herald disaster to India’s agriculture.

    Militarization of the Tibetan plateau

    China has turned the once peaceful and buffer state between India and China into a vast military zone. The militarization of the Tibetan plateau profoundly affects the geopolitical balance of the region and causes serious international tension, particularly in the Indian subcontinent.
    Today, Chinese military presence in Tibet includes an estimated 300 000 to 500 000 troops, of which 200 000 are permanently stationed in Central Tibet near the Indian border; 17 secret radar stations ; 14 military airfields ; 5 missile bases in Kongpo Nyingtri, Powo Tramo, Rudok, Golmu and Nagchu ; at least 8ICBMs ; 70 medium range missiles and 20 intermediate range missiles. Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and major Indian population centres are within the range of these nuclear-tipped missiles. Besides, China also utilises Tibet for chemical warfare exercises and dumping nuclear and toxic wastes from other countries on payment of huge sums of money.

    Railway and colonization

    On 29 June 2001 China launched its 1 118 km Railway Project in Tibet connecting Lhasa and Gormo. It is widely believed that mere economic considerations can hardly justify the enormous cost and technical difficulties of the project. Political and military considerations are the key factor in China’s determination to construct the rail link to Lhasa, 600 kms from Kolkata.
    An Indian scholar, Dr. Subhash Kapila, said that the arrival of the railway would, at least, double Chinas’s military deployment in Tibet and the Indo-Tibetan border region, and Beijing would be able to effectively sustain it logistically. And this was what seemed to be the forefront objective of China when President Jiang Zemin said in New York that the project would be undertaken at all costs no matter how heavy the burden would be on China’s Exchequer.
    He added that the new rail link and offshoots from the proposed oil pipeline could increase the deployment of china’s airforce and missiles. The Chinese media indicate that the PLA base in Gormo may be expanded manifold once it is connected to Lhasa by the rail. It will also facilitate the expansion of PLA bases in Kongpo and other parts of southwestern Tibet. This will become a real possibility when the second phase of extending the rail line from Lhasa to Dali in Yunnan is completed.

    The Chinese rule in Tibet at a glance
    • More than 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed
    • More than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed
    • Thousands of Tibetans are still imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights
    • Tibet’s natural resources and fragile ecology are being irreversibly destroyed
    • There are evidences suggesting that Tibet is being used for dumping of nuclear wastes
    • Tibetans (6 million) have been outnumbered by Chinese (7.5 million) in Tibet
    • Tibet, once a peaceful buffer state between India and China, has been transformed into a vast military base

    43 years of struggle and reconstruction

    Following the violent suppression of the Tibetan people’s uprising against the Chinese occupation of Tibet on March 10, 1959, His Holiness the Dalaï Lama and the members of the Tibetan government followed by 80,000 Tibetans escaped Tibet and sought asylum in India and neighbouring countries. In exile, the Tibetan Government was reorganised on modern democratic principles. A new Charter of Tibetans in exile has been adopted to govern the functioning of the Central Tibetan Administration (Government in Exile). The Central Tibetan Administration, which administers all matters pertaining to Tibetans and leads the struggle for the restoration of Tibetan independence, is headed by His Holiness the Dalaï Lama. He is assisted by a council of Ministers headed and appointed by the Kalon Tripa (Executive Chief) elected directly by the people. Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (ATPD) serves as the Tibetan Parliament in exile and the members are democratically elected by the people.

    The Central Tibetan Administration comprises of several departments – Religion and Culture, Home, Education, Security, Health, Finance and Information and International Relations. Apart from these departments there are Supreme Justice, Audit, Public Service and Election Commissions established as per the special provisions of the Charter. To Tibetans, in and outside Tibet, the Government-in-Exile headed by His Holiness the Dalaï Lama is the sole and legitimate government of Tibet.

    International Support

    The issue of Tibet is very much alive. There has been growing international support. Today, there are about 400 Tibet Support Groups in more than 50 countries, 400 chapters of Students for a Free Tibet in high schools, colleges and universities around the world and All Party Parliamentary Groups for Tibet in more than 12 countries, including the one formed in India. Since 1986, more than 50 resolutions, bills, early-day motions, hearings and debates on government statements have taken place in parliaments around the world. Parliamentary fact finding delegations to Tibet from Australia, European Parliament, USA, Austria and other unofficial parliamentary visits have drawn focus on the real situation of Tibet. Since 1985, Tibetan issue has been raised in the UN Commission of Human Rights in all its successive meetings and has gained support from the developed as well as the developing countries.

    Tibetan struggle for freedom

    Despite so many years of oppression and atrocity, the spirit of Tibetans remains uncrushed and defiant. From September 1987 till the middle of 1995, there had been over 150 popular demonstrations in Tibet against the Chinese rule. Hundreds of Tibetans had died in those demonstrations. Many more have been jailed incommunicado. However, the Tibetan struggle is not yet over. They are aware that their goal for freedom can only be achieved with the support of the world, especially India.

    An appeal for help

    Tibetan people living in and outside Tibet appeal the great people of India and other free world to help and support the freedom struggle of the Tibetan people to save its identity and civilization from extinction. You can help and support our cause by the following ways :

    • Express support for the Tibetan people’s right to independence by writing to newspapers and magazines
    • Write to your MPs about Tibet and ask them to raise the issue of Tibet in the parliament
    • Ask your MPs and government to support the Dalaï Lama’s peace initiatives for Tibet
    • Urge your government to review its policy on Tibet
    • Urge your government to support a resolution on Tibet in the UN
    • Ask your MPs and government to recognize the Tibetan Government-in-Exile headed by His Holiness the Dalaï Lama
    • Set up Tibet Support Group at your place and inform the local people in your region about Tibet and the Tibetan people

    References :
    Tibet : The Facts
    Department of Information and International Relations
    Central Tibetan Administration
    Dharamsala – 176215
    Himachal Pradesh

    Biodiversity of the Tibetan plateau

    'ROOF of the world', 'Shangri-la', Third Pole', 'The Lost Horizon', and other such terms manifest the fascination of many adventurers and explorers all around the world for Tibet. Many pioneer travellers and their followers to Tibet have described with a sense of mystery and discovery the unique Tibetan culture and tradition.
    However, no extensive work has been done on the wildlife of Tibet. The word 'wildlife,' contrary to popular belief, not only refer to wild animals, but also encompasses wild plants as well. Tibet is one of the few countries in the world, where limited scientific research has been conducted on the biological aspects of its many species. Some species are still not properly scientifically studied and some are even yet to be discovered.
    Senator Bob Brown of Tasmania, Australia, said at the Endangered Tibet Conference, held in Sydney on 28th Sept 1996 that the three greatest regions of our planet are Antarctica, Amazon, and Tibet. The first two enjoy a certain degree of global protection, public awareness and growing concern for their preservation. However, Tibet has to date attracted none of these.

    This article attempts to provide an overview of the biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau. The objective of this articles is multi-fold:

    • To create better awareness about the biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau, which is conventionally believed as dry and desolate
    • To seek international participation and assistance in conserving Tibetan wildlife
    • To create global awareness about the tragedy of Tibet, and its enviornment under the China's rule
    • The most important objective of this article is to remind today's Tibetan youth and the friends of Tibetans, that Tibet is not only barren and cold as some fiction books and Hollywood pictures would like to believe

    Tibet is the last sanctuary left in the world to some of the world's rare plant and animal species. This is primarily due to Tibet's long period of isolation and the protection provided by the sky-tapering majestic mountains for centuries. The natural protection is further strengthened by the Tibetan Buddhists belief of living in harmony with nature.
    In the Horse Water Year in 1642, His Holiness the Great Fifth Dalai Lama became the spiritual and political mentor of Tibet. From this date, in the tenth month of every year, a Decree for the Protection of Animals and the Environment was issued in the name of the Dalai Lama. These human and natural factors have helped sustain myriad wildlife on the Plateau.
    British explorer, Kingdon Ward, who visited Tibet wrote before the First World War: "I have never seen so many varieties of birds in one place, one great zoological garden."

    In the forties, American adventurer, Leonard Clark, reported: "Every few minutes we would spot a bear, a hunting wolf, herds of musk deer, kiang (wild ass), gazelles, big horned sheep, or foxes. This must be one of the last unspoiled big game paradise."
    However, after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1949, the eco-friendly belief system of the Tibetan people was trampled, Tibetan monks and nuns persecuted, thousands of Tibet's monasteries destroyed in the wake of turning the peaceful land of Tibet into a socialist zone. Even the wildlife of Tibet didn't escape the Comminist madnes and was decimated with vengeance. Today under the Chinese rule danger of extinction looms large over innumerable species as their stamping ground fall prey to the insensitivity of China.

    What is biodiversity?

    Biodiversity is the short form of biological diversity. Broadly speaking the term 'biodiversity' encompasses all species of plants, animals, micro-organisms, their genetic materials and the ecosystems of which they are part- many of which have developed over millennia of evolutionary history. Global biodiversity is usually divided into three fundamental categories: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. Here we will mainly deal with species diversity for convenience.

    Tibetan plateau

    The Tibetan Plateau towers over the central part of the continent of Eurasia. It is bounded by the Himalayan mountain chain in the south, and connected with the Altyn Tagh and Gangkar Chogley Namgyal Mountains in the north. Its western part merges with the Karakoram mountains and its eastern part slopes downward more gradually with Minyak Gangkar and Khawakarpo Mountains.

    Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau on the earth. The area occupied by the Tibetan Plateau is more than 2.5 million square km. Its average elevation exceeds (13,000 feet), and many of the peaks reach beyond 8000m, Mt. Everest, with 8,848m, being the world's tallest. In fact Tibet has all fourteen of the world's 8000-meter peaks (greater than 26,259 feet in elevation). Tibetan Plateau consist of a variety of landscapes ranging from lunar landscapes in some parts of southern Tibet to lush and thick tropical forests in eastern Tibet.

    Natural Topography

    Geologists tell us that Indian sub-continent, about 17 million years ago moved towards the central Asian landmass, forming the highest plateau on the earth- the Tibetan Plateau.
    Based on natural topography, Tibet can be roughly divided into four parts, valley and drier regions in the south, plateau in the north, and high mountains with river valleys in the southwest and wet forest regions in the east. Climatic zone varies from arid polar alpine ice-snow zone to Humid low mountain tropical zone from north to south.
    The unique geo-morphological configuration, the complex land conditions, the diversified climate and the unique geological evolution has created the Tibetan Plateau to become a crucial center for the composition and differentiation of mountain species in the world, especially of boreal flora and fauna.

    The hydrological net in Tibet is formed by inner and outer river systems. The inner rivers and streams usually run in specific seasons and form many lakes and ponds in the basins of the Plateau. The Tibetan Plateau is dotted with more than fifteen thousand lakes. The major lakes are Tso-ngonpo (Kokonor lake) -the largest lake, Namtso (Tengri Nor), Yadrok Yumtso (Yamdrok lake)and Mapham Tso (Mansarowar lake).
    The outer river systems mainly rises in the east and southeast Tibet. Tibet is the principal source of ten major rivers of Asia: Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Satluj, Indus, Yangtze, Salween, Arun, Mekong, Karnali, Yellow River, Drukchu and numerous tributaries flowing into Asia. These rivers and their tributaries are the life-blood of millions of people in the above continent. Our research figure shows that Tibet sustains the lives of 47 percent of the world population and 85 percent of Asia's total population.

    Distribution of biodiversity

    The vast land surface of the Tibetan Plateau has wide climatic variations caused by the unique plateau atmospheric circulation system due to strong heat-island effect and the great difference in elevation. Such unusual natural conditions give rise to a diverse natural habitats for complex species of flora and fauna. The areas of eastern and south eastern Tibet receive monsoon showers during the month of June-September and have abundant plant and animal species, many of which are rare and endangered.
    The Plateau is the differentiation center for Rhododendron, Primula, Saussurea, and Pedicularis. There are altogether 400 species of Rhododendron on the Plateau, which make up about 50 percent of the world's total species.
    Many endemic plant species such as Circaeaster, Himiphrogma, and Chionocharis, Milula, Cyananthus, Leptocodon, Maharanga, Pegia, Chamasium and many others are found on the Tibetan Plateau.
    In fact, it is important to remind that some exotic flora in the West such as Rhododendron, saxifraga, paeonia, were brought from Tibet by early travellers such as British Botanist Kingdon Ward. He travelled to Tibet in search of exotic plants in 1919.

    Leonard Clark, the American adventurer in 1948 returned from Tibet with valuable botanical samples. He wrote, "Surprisingly, our scientists estimated that among the basic foundation stones of this inherent Mongol power for war is grass, strong grass converted into excellent animal flesh- among the finest in the world. I was taking grass samples and seeds, hoping to transfer its power to the pastures of America and Europe."
    According to Wu and Feng (1992) on the Tibetan Plateau there are over 12,000 species of 1,500 genera of vascular plants, accounting for over half of the total genera found in China. There are over 5,000 species of 700 genera of fungi, accounting for 82.4 percent of China; 210 species belonging to 29 families of mammals, accounting for 65.90 percent of the total families found in China.
    There are over 532 species of birds in 57 families accounting for approximately 70.37 percent of the total families found in China and 115 species of fishes, which make 6.28 percent of China's total.

    Based on Ellenbeg's scheme (1973) for determining world ecosystems, the Tibetan Plateau contains all the large ecosystems of the macro-ecosystem-terrestrial ecosystem: forest, scrub, steppe desert, and aquatic formations. Such ecosystems are usually fully displayed only on a continental scale.
    The distribution of plant and animal species on the Plateau is extremely uneven due to differences in topography and climate. For example the Chang Thang (Tibetan for Northern Plateau) occupies a quarter of the Tibetan Plateau, but hosts only one-tenth of the total species found on the Plateau. However, the Himalayan and Hengduan Mountains i.e. the regions of Khawakarpo mountains in south and south eastern Tibet contain less than one-fifth of the Tibetan Plateau, but is home to over 80 percent of the total species living on the Plateau.

    Forests in eastern and south eastern Tibet

    Most of the rare animal and plant species make their home in the forest of eastern and Southeast Tibet because of the variety of habitats the forests belts provide and the suitable climate. Rare animals found in these forest regions are giant panda, white-lipped deer, takin, musk deer, goral, birds such as Himalayan monal, snow cock, satyr tragopan, Tibetan patridge, and blood pheasant to name a few.
    According to (Du Qing, 1987) the forest of southeast Amdo are known not only for their variety, but also for their tremendous storage. For example, there are 200 year-old spruce forest in the valleys of Tramo (Ch:Bomi) county. The average diameter of the trees is 92 cm with height 57 m, the maximum storage per hectare 2000-2500 cubic meter, the average growth rate per year 10-12 cubic meter per hectare. When one of the huge plum yew tree with 7 meter in circumference fell across the road, it took more than a day for a squad of China's People's Liberation Army soldiers to cut it into half.

    Wild animals

    Chinese biologists investigation in Amdo (Ch:Qinghai) found that there are 10 million birds belonging to 200 species, which is about one-third of the bird population of Europe (Chen & Zhang, 1987). Tso-ngonpo (Kokonor lake) in Amdo alone boast ten out of fifteen recorded duck families. Kokonor lake is also rich in fish species. According to Chinese statistics total fish catch from the lake from 1957-1970 add up to some 128,500 tons.
    The well-known Birds Island of Kokonor lake with only 67,000 sq. m. has four main breeding birds- bar-headed geese, great black-headed gulls, brown-headed gulls and cormorants which number about 93,7000. If the number of other birds, such as terns, snipes, is added the total number of birds will exceed 100,000.
    In the so called Tibet Autonomous Region alone, there are 2,307 species of insects, 64 species of fish, 45 species of amphibian, 55 species of reptiles, 488 species of birds and 142 species of mammals. There are 163 rare, endangered and valuable species, which consist of 74 species of mammals, 79 birds, 4 reptiles, 2 amphibians, 2 fishes and 2 insects.
    There are over 5000 higher plant species and 280 families. Among them woody plants total over 100 families and 300 species. Being rich in wild plants in terms of number of species and population, Metok, Tramo (Ch:Zhamu)and Kyirong are called the rare natural plant museums.

    The species and abundances of wildlife are not numerous in Lhasa Region, but hundreds of black-necked cranes winter in the valley of Lhasa Kyichu River. Chamdo Region has steep valleys and rich forest cover, which provide good habitats for many wildlife species. This region is called "pheasant realm" with over ten pheasant species and golden monkey, sambar and black stocks.
    The Lhoka Region is very complex in topography with dry valleys, tropical and subtropical vegetation. So there are many rare and endangered species. The Tibetan sub-species of red deer (Cervus elaphus wallichi) thrive in this region.
    The valleys of Kongpo in southern Tibet are covered by sub-tropical vegetation and are rich in species diversity. Long-tailed leaf monkey and Himalayan tahr are mainly distributed in this region. Nyingtri Region (Ch: Nyingchi) of Kongpo is in the east part of Himalayas with warm and moist climate and tropical and subtropical vegetation. It is one of the richest area in wildlife diversity.

    Endemism on the Tibetan plateau

    Since animals have a wider area of activity, their endemism is less obvious than plants. The endemic distribution of animal species on the Plateau is abundant. It boasts 40 endemic mammals, 60 percent of the China's total. 28 endemic birds, 2 endemic reptiles and 10 endemic amphibians. The endemic animal species of the Tibetan Plateau mainly consist of endemic species of the moist eastern and southern fringes and the Northern Plateau. The former includes mammals such as giant panda, red panda, takin, musk deer, and various species of birds such as Tragopan, eared pheasant, Himalayan monal and others. The Chang Thang (Northern Plateau) area host fewer endemic animal genera, including mammals like Tibetan antelope, wild yak, kyang, Himalayan marmot, Himalayan mouse-hair or Pika, Tibetan woolly hare, vole and birds like Tibetan snow-cock, Tibetan sand grouse and others. Ngari Region is situated in the western part of Tibet, is one of main distribution range of plateau endemic wildlife species.

    Endangered mammals of Tibet

    Common name Tibetan name Scientific name
    Takin Bamen B.t. taxicolor
    Tibetan takin Bamen B.t. tibetana
    Whitei takin Bamen B.t. whitei
    Tibetan wild yak Drong Bos grunniens
    Ibex Capra ibex
    Sumatra serow Capricornis sumatraensis
    White-lipped Deer Shawa chukar Cervus albirostris
    Shou or Red deer Cervus elaphus wallichi
    McNeil's Deer Shawa Cervus elaphus macneilli
    Pere David's deer Shawa Elaphurus davidianus
    Himalayan tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus
    Musk deer lawa Moschus sefanicus
    lawa Moschus fuscus
    lawa Moschus cephalophus
    Red goral ra-mar Naemorhedus cranbrooki
    Goral Naemorhedus goral
    Tibetan argali sheep Nyan Ovis ammon hodgsoni
    Tibetan antelope Tsod Pantholops hodgsoni
    Blue-sheep or bharal Nawa, na Pseudois nayaur
    Giant panda Thomtra Ailuropoda melanoleuca
    Red panda Wob or
    Thomtra marchung Ailurus fulgens
    Oriental small-clawed otter Saam Aonyx cinerea
    Otter Saam Lutra lutra
    Lynx Yi Lynx lynx
    Stone/beech marten Ogkar Martes foina
    Clouded leopard Goong-zig Neofelis nebulosa
    Siberian Tiger Siberia Taag Panthera tigris altaica
    Snow leopard Saa or Gang-zig Panthera uncia
    Black bear Dom nakpo Selenarctos thibetanus
    Tibetan brown bear Dom gyamuk Ursus arctos pruinosus
    Kyang or Tibetan wild ass Kyang Equus hemionus kiang
    Golden or snub-nosed monkey Ser-tral Rhinopithecus roxellanae
    Assamese macaque Assam tay Macaca assamensis
    Rhesus macaque Tay Macaca mulatta
    Tibetan macaque Bokyi tay Macca thibetana
    Takin Bamen B.t. taxicolor

    Endangered birds of Tibet

    Common name Scientific Name
    Wood snipe Capella nemoricola
    Black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa
    Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
    Tibetan sand grouse Syrrhaptes tibetanus
    Rufous-necked hornbill Aceros nepalensis
    Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos
    Long-legged boteo Buteo rufinus
    Saker falcon Falco cherrug
    Lammmergeier/bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus
    Pallas's fishing eagle Haliaetus leucoryphus
    Brahminy kite Haliastur indus
    Red-breasted Hill Patridge Arborophila mandellii
    Rufous-throated patridge Arborophila rufogularis
    Tibetan patridge Perdix hodgsoniae
    Tibetan eared pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon
    Blood pheasant Ithaginis cruentus
    Tibetan patridge Arborophila rufpectus
    Snow patridge Lerwa lerwa
    Himalayan monal/Monal pheasant Lophophorus impejanus
    Sclater's monal pheasant Lophophorus sclateri
    Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos
    Himalayan snowcock Tetraogallus himalayensis
    Tibetan snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus
    Blyth's tragopan/Grey bellied tragopan Tragopan blythii
    Satyr tragopan Tragopan satyr
    Temminck tragopan Tragopan temminckii
    Demoiselle crane Anthropoides virgo
    Black-necked crane Grus nigricollis
    Koslow bunting Emberiza koslowi
    Long-billed calandra lark Melanocorypha maxima
    Red-headed trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus

    Sources: McCue, 1991; Li 1995; Ali 1996.

    Putting a value on biodiversity

    The comprehensive uses of various plants and animal products and by-products on the Tibetan Plateau can not be justified in a brief article. However following is a gist of various benefits:

    Basic Needs

    The basic needs of the people in Tibet are derived from plants and animal products or by-products. The main food crops that grow in Tibet are barley, wheat, maize, mustard, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and rice. Tsampa (roasted barley) is the staple diet of the Tibetan people. The main vegetables that grow well are cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, radish, turnip, peas, celery, carrot, potato, spinach, chives, kidney beans, tomatoes, squash, coriander and others. The abundant bright sunshine is good for vegetable growing. It is not rare for a radish or cabbage to grow to a dozen kilograms, a potato to half or one kilogram. These days people grow fresh vegetables in greenhouses to provide vegetables throughout the four seasons, especially in the Lhasa areas. Fruits trees that grow well in Tibet are apple, chestnut, orange, walnut, apricot, peach, plum, cherry, banana and pear. Strawberry, grapes, rhubarb, and mushrooms also grow in abundance.

    Tea is cultivated in Metok, Zayul, Tramo, Nyingtri and certain areas of Amdo and Kham province of Tibet. The main tea species cultivated are black tea, green tea, reddish-bracted, small-clustered, rape-flowered, large-leaved and small-leaved tea (Zheng Du and et al, 1990). Clothing for people also come directly from animals and plants. For example cotton clothes from cotton plants, woollen garments from wool producing animals, silk from silk-worm. Much of the traditional Tibetan clothes are derived from animals such as yak, sheep and goat. Indian hemp can be woven into silk materials to produce first rate clothing, and the list goes on and on. The trees and bamboos, which are used for building houses of all shapes and sizes are derived directly from the forests. The forest products are also utilized in varieties of daily use items such as furniture, tools, and in paper industries. China sell Tibetan timber in the international market and domestically use them in building bridges, ships, boats, railway slippers, and others.

    Medicinal resources

    According to Dr. Tenzin Choedak, senior personal physician to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there are over 2000 medicinal plants in Tibet. These plants have an immense potential to cure various dreaded and common ailments that afflict human beings such as dysentery, cancer, diabetes, ulcer, anaemia, tuberculosis, malaria, and many other killer diseases. For example, Taxus wallichiana, a tree found in the forest regions of Tibet, is the source of allopathic drug taxol, which is regarded as one of the most effective remedy for cancer. Some medicinal plants of the Tibetan Plateau, which are widely used in allopathic, homeopathic, Tibetan and Chinese medicines are; Gastroda elata, Angelica sinensis, Coptis tectoides, Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora, Rheum officinalis, Magnolia officinalis, Terminalia chebula, and Liolyophora phalloides.

    Angong-niu-huang pill, a traditional Chinese medicine used as a relief for critical cases, is made from the grass stones formed in the gall bladder of yaks! Musk has very high medicinal value, being an essential component of some traditional Chinese drugs, like liushen (six-god) pills and musk ointment and in perfumery. From 1987 to 1992 (six years), in the region of Amdo Golok in eastern Tibet alone, China extracted medicinal plants worth: Rheum palmatum (chumtsa) 1017.5 tons; Frittilaria sp.(abhika) over 30 tons; Cordyceps sinensis (Yartsa Gunbu) 9,105 kg; Gentiana robusta (Kiche) 36 tons. In thirty years from Amdo Golok alone, Chinese have extracted chumtsa 6,105 tons, abika 180 tons Yartsa gunbu 54.9 tons, deer antlers 28.5 tons (Palbar, 1994).

    Various food grains and berries are used in brewery industries in making alcoholic drinks such as wines, beer, whiskey and others. Government of China has produced a new market orientated barley beer in Tibet on a commercial scale.

    Aesthetic value

    The endless verdant grasslands, turquoise lakes, meandering rivers and numerous wildlife in Tibet never fail to impress a visitor, filling his/her mind with host of inspiration and joy. This soul soothing attraction provide flora and fauna with an immense aesthetic value.

    Educational value

    Plants and animals have immense educational value. They educate man about the natural world and man himself. For example by studying the natural habits of wild animals and what medicinal plants they consume, helps us in understanding the secrets medicinal uses of certain plants and animals.

    Spiritual, social and cultural value

    Tibetans believe that there is an intricate relationship between the living world and human beings. Tibetans have been effective stewardship of the environment due primarily to their belief in the sanctity of living beings. To them every life is precious and refrain oneself from harming other living beings. One of the Tibetan spiritual text Pungsang Sutra says, "Taking your body as an example, don't harm other living beings." Tibetan Buddhist scriptures explain that the earth is the noe (container) and all the things on this earth -biotic and abiotic elements as the chue (contents). Thus if the container is broken and destroyed it can not contain the contents, similarly is the case with our mother earth, which is the container sustaining the lives of countless living creatures including the lives of human beings.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama says in his famous poem on the environment:
    "In the remoteness of the Himalayas
    In the days of yore, the land of Tibet
    Observed a ban on hunting, on fishing
    And, during designated periods,
    even construction
    These traditions are noble
    For they preserve and Cherish
    The lives of humble, helpless and
    defenseless creatures."

    Intrinsic value

    It is the innate or inherent value of any wildlife. The value of its mere existence and value of being itself. In short intrinsic value is that value that resides 'in' nature and that is unrelated to human beings altogether. Put another way, if there were no humans, some people would argue that animals, habitats, etc. would still have 'intrinsic value'.

    Tibetan wildlife dying out

    Hunting and poaching

    Hunting and poaching of wildlife for commercial gain is the principle threat to the survival of various wildlife species in Tibet. Rare animal skins and other parts such as deer antlers, Tibetan gazelle head, and leopard skins are sold openly in the market such as in Labrang, Amdo (Qinghai) without any legal penalties imposed on these hunters. Many Tibetan refugees are eye witness to Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) brigades venturing in groups to machine gun herds of wild animals without any consideration for the sanctity of wildlife, especially after the final occupation of Tibet in 1959. These hunted animals were either taken to China as trophies, their meat exported or consumed locally by Chinese armies. China's PLA soldiers stationed in Tibet often use dynamites in rivers and lakes to catch fish. Many Tibetan refugees recall such merciless activities in Tibet. Such activities not only kill the fishes, but also poison the whole aquatic ecosystem where these dynamites are being used. China's official approach to wildlife can best be illustrated by statement such as this "Rich wildlife resources of Qinghai (Amdo) province provide important exports for our country. Each year, 130,000 marmot skins are exported," (Du, Qing 1987). According to Zhou Manzhang, (1987) in the past there were flocks of hundreds of wild yak in alpine grasslands in Amdo. Hunting by men in recent years have greatly reduced their number.

    In a country where the per capita income is US$30 it is hard to resist the temptation of selling rare animal parts for hard cash. A snow leopard coat can fetch US$20,000 in the black market. According to the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the so called Tibet Autonomous Region, issued by the government of China (dated September 1996), admit that "hunting is prohibited, but few local governments have not enough recognition to this issue and their measures of protecting wildlife is ineffective." George Schaller, an American wildlife scientist, who has conducted wildlife study in Chang Thang, says in the August 1993 issue of National Geographic, "Tibet Forest Bureau has tried to curtail illegal Tibetan antelope wool trade. For example, one truck driver was taken to court for killing 300 antelopes. However, control is extremely difficult, in part because officials, instead of upholding the laws, themselves often hunt. One Tibetan herdsmen in the area said that Chinese officials from Gerze (Gyertse) come in winter to Chang Thang to hunt yaks and antelope with modern weapons." He said, "If the officials obey the law and stop hunting we will too."

    Commercial exploitation

    Behind the high sounding Chinese government rhetoric of protecting Tibet's wildlife. A state run company called China National Native Produce and Animal Byproducts Import and Export Corporation sends its agents into the countryside to trap or kill wild animals of all kinds (Schaller, 1994). Deer antlers, musk, tiger and leopard bones and other parts of animals are used in traditional Chinese medicine. There is widespread commercial hunting of Tibetan wild animals. A permit to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$35,000, and an argali sheep US$23,000. Endangered species of Tibet, such as snow leopard, giant panda, black-necked crane, wild yak, Tibetan antelope enjoy protection only on China's government paper.

    Political exploitation

    Monopolizing international interest China uses the giant panda to earn hard cash through zoo rental programs as well as to gain political leverage from influential countries, even as the species is threatened with extinction. There are now only about 1000 giant pandas left in the wild on this earth. China announced on August 17, 1995 that it will give two endangered giant pandas to Hong Kong on July 1, 1997 to mark the change of sovereignty! These rare animals are not official souvenirs to be given away as present at the whim and fancy of China. Earlier China gave two giant pandas to the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, a pair to the Japanese Prime Minister in 1972 and a pair to the then U.S. President Richard Nixon, one to the London Zoo. These are few cases in point to prove China's exploitation of the endangered animals on the international stage.

    Population pressure

    His Holiness the late Xth Panchen Lama said on 8th March 1987 at the National People's Congress conference held in Beijing, "The expenditure on a Chinese in Tibet is four-times more than that in China. Why should Tibet pay so much to sustain these Chinese population in Tibet? Government of China's policy of sending inept Chinese into Tibet is harming Tibet. In the beginning few thousand Chinese migrated, but now several thousand more are pouring into Tibet." Human population growth in Tibet obviously leads to the over utilization of natural resources. Tibetan wildlife habitat fall prey to intruding Chinese settlers and many animals and plants suffer from 'Shrunk home, shrunk family' syndrome. Rare animals like giant panda and golden monkey are some animals with one foot in the grave. The production of furs and pelts in central Tibet has reached 53,60,000 each year on an average. Most of these furs come from Himalayan marmot, musk deer, blue sheep, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan antelope, stone marten, foxes, lynx, leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), common otter, oriental small-clawed otter and wild red dog (Cuon alpinus).

    A 1988 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangared Species (CITES) found that China's export of large cat skins totalled 89,650, which is the highest export number in the world, ironically China is a signatory to CITES. In the Kanlho Meat Factory of Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the factory slaughters about 2500 sheep in a day, the blood and the wastes from this factory is allowed to flow into the main river from where people fetch their drinking water (Palbar, 1994). Traditional Chinese medicine uses animal part as its ingredients, more than 100 species of animals in Tibet can provide such ingredients for medicine. Musk, pilose antler of deer and bear gallbladder have significant medicinal value. Some species of mammals were traditionally thought as pests and killed mercilessly, which also is a reason for their decline in number.


    Tibet's total forest cover declined from 25.2 million hectares in 1949 to 13.57 million hectares in 1985 alone, which means 46 percent destruction. According to Chinese official statistic from 1959 to 1985 Tibetan timber worth US$54 billion were cut down and sold in the international timber market by China. No recent data is available. Tibetan forest regions of Nyingtri, Gyalthang, and Drago were ravaged between 1965-1985 and a total of 18 million cubic meters of timber were transported to China. The state of Tibet's forest can best be illustrated by Tenzin, a middle-aged farmer of Markham village in Kham, eastern Tibet who told the New York Times correspondent, Nicholas Meysztowics in April 1990, "In the time it takes to drink one cup of tea, fifteen Chinese trucks loaded with Tibetan logs pass by."

    The chaotic commune-period (1956-1981) initiated by the government of China caused an unprecedented destruction of Tibet's forest. During this period local villages became production brigades during which mountains in Tibet were stripped of their forests to feed inefficient steel furnaces in the madness to produce enough steel for China to advance rapidly to the ranks of the advanced nations! According to Tenzin Palbar, who escaped from Tibet into India in 1987, in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture from 1955-1991 (in thirty six years) alone Chinese government have extracted 50.17 million cubic meters of Tibetan timber, which is worth US$ 3.1 billion (25 billion yuan) in Tibet alone (at the average price of 50 yuan per cubic meter, at the current rate of 1US$= 8yuan).

    Grassland degradation

    Tibet is 70 percent grassland and the health of these extensive grasslands are fundamental to the survival of about 1 million people consisting mainly of nomads and about 70 million population of domestic animals such as sheep, goat and yak and countless number of wildlife. Chinese government still regard the overstocking of grazing animals on the Tibetan Plateau as the main culprit behind overgrazing. However, recent western experts who have done research in Tibet, such as Prof. Melvyn Goldstein of Case Western Reserve University, USA found that there is no significant correlation between animal density and grassland degradation.

    In fact many cases of grassland devastation are related to extensive use of nomadic pastures for Chinese military encampments and installations. In the Machu district in Amdo (Qinghai), one-third of over 10,000 of Tibetan grasslands have been fenced for exclusive grazing of horses and cattle belonging to the Chinese army. News of fencing of Tibetan grassland still continue to flow from Tibet. The principle pasture lands of Amdo (Qinghai) regions of Tibet before 1949 [i.e before China's occupation of Tibet] grew to an average height of 20 cm, covering 75 to 90 percent of the area. Today, the grass grows to maximum height of only 10 cm. while the percentage coverage of pasture lands has fallen considerably and grass yields are estimated to have fallen by up approximately 50 percent (Wang and Bai, 1991).

    A widespread and economically very costly phenomenon has been the extinction of the four principal rat predators: foxes, weasels, cats and owls. This had led to local outbreaks of massive rat infestation with rat packs destroying crops in the daytime. For example, rat outbreaks damaged previously productive pastures in Tibetan province of Amdo (Qinghai). In the late 1970s some 8 million hectares of pastures was affected (one eight of the province's total, and the annual loss of dry grass reached 2.5 million tons, enough to feed to more than 5 million sheep (Zheng Boquan 1980).


    For-go benefits

    The various economic value of wildlife such as medicinal, industrial, educational, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural values, vanishes altogether with the extinction of wildlife on the Tibetan Plateau.

    Environmental destruction

    With the disappearance of flora and fauna, the environment of the Tibetan Plateau will be irreversibly disturbed. Felling forest in Tibet, for instance, can not only wipe out a number of species but also upset the complex calculus that decides the amount of water, soil and heat a given place receives to cause soil erosion, landslides, flood and other perils. Several rare and endangered species will become extinct. For example, the Himalayan mountain quail, Ophrysia superciliosa, the highest dwelling bird disappeard in 1868. This bird fed on grases, insects and berries. Nobody, however, knows why it died out.

    Global climatic effects

    Tibet, because of its immense geographical position and height, considerably influences the global weather pattern by affecting the flow of jet streams over the Tibetan Plateau. The Plateau acts as a huge land surface like an enormous ice-berg in the ocean affecting the jet streams. Loss of forest and grassland cover of the Plateau will affect the jet stream pattern, which will affect pacific typhoons and also cause the el nino effect which altogether affect the weather pattern of Europe, USA, Mexico, Peru, India, China and other adjoining areas to affect their economy.

    Possible solutions

    The conservation of biodiversity differs from traditional nature preservation in that it is less of a defensive mechanism than a proactive effort- seeking to meet human needs (read not greed) from biological resources and at the same time sustainably managing these resources for the future generation.

    Habitat protection and restoration

    "East or West home is the best" phrase hold true for plants and animals.The destruction of their habitat ultimately means the destruction of many species of plants and animals. Wildlife habitats on the Tibetan Plateau need to be protected pro-actively. Wherever possible the niches of wildlife regions must be restored. So that once again some silent habitats will teem with wildlife. One way of conserving the habitats for species survival is the setting up of nature parks and reserves for wildlife. There are in total 21 'nature reserves'on the Tibetan Plateau. These reserves have actually no practical protection. There is no strict wildlife warden or reserve managers to manage the wildlife in these so called reserves. Therefore there is the need of more sustained and active involvement of the government and local people through financial and human resource mobilization.

    Strengthening legislation

    It is not because there is no laws for the conservation of wildlife on the Tibetan Plateau. But, because these laws are too weak to stamp-out the illegal activities of seasoned poachers and hunters. There are many loop holes where wildlife criminals and black-marketers get out easy without paying fines or undergoing jail sentences. China's State Councillor, Chen Junsheng, said in a Xinhua official China news agency report (Jan, 1995) that more efforts are needed to protect forest, rare wildlife, including revising the existing forestry laws and drawing up new laws to crack down on illegal logging and hunting. However, nothing seems to be happening. So action is needed, not lip service.

    Ecological Ethic

    Consume, pollute, and throw away modern consumerism is regarded by the Chinese government, unluckily by some Tibetans as sign of prosperity and social status. Ironically this modern disease is responsible for many of the environmental ills of this century. Therefore, this old mentality should be transformed to a more compassionate, caring, and universal brotherhood consciousness as championed by none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In other words before we go on to clean the external environment, it is an urgent task to clean the inner environment i.e. one's defiled mind. Chinese character or word for animal means "moving things"! Considering wild animals as things to be consumed or used for human purpose is no doubt a backward ideology. And this attitude of Chinese is the main cause behind the loss of biodiversity on the Tibetan Plateau. Therefore, the Tibetan Buddhist ideology of respecting wild animals as equal partners in an interdependent natural ecosystem should be given prominence and not looked down as 'backward' as most Chinese still tend to do. It is the Chinese who have to be educated or rather liberated to use a socialist term so as to conserve wholistically the biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau for posterity.

    Conservation education and training

    Grassroot conservation education and extension services should be provided to the younger generation. These education and training can easily be build upon the rich Buddhist ecological ethic. The conservation education and training will include wildlife management, wildlife research, designing nature parks and reserves, conservation training, conservation workshop and education, conservation extension work etc. Chinese scientist Li Bosheng, who has done extensive research on Plateau's biodiversity says that one of the biggest stumbling block in the path of conserving biodiversity in Tibet is the shortage of talented personnel and lack of funds and materials. Tibetan and international bodies and the government of China can play active role in such avenues.

    Respect for traditional conservation methods

    "We know what is good for you" approach of arrogance by China or international donor agencies usually doesn't work in other countries and so is the case in Tibet. One prominent fact must be understood crystal clear that Tibetans have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. Tibetan Buddhists' earth friendly value system should be at the core of any conservation agenda or programs initiated either by China or international agencies. Many Chinese scientists are now beginning to recommend this concept such as Zhang Rongzu, 1989 who says "It is worth considering the significance of this tradition (Tibetan). It must be treated as a sound background for any kind of economic development initiatives, rather than simply presuming that it is backward. Many experiences of inner China and its conventional models have a limited relevance here (Tibet)."

    More research

    Better and more research on the biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau will shed light on the habits and habitats of rare and endangered plants and animals of Tibet. Here the call is for sensitive research, which respect Tibetan culture and tradition to sustainably manage the biological resources. Research on the carrying-capacity of pastures, forests, lakes and other natural resources should be conducted for the long-term environmental management of the Tibetan Plateau. The domestic and international scientific network on biodiversity should be strengthened to improve communication and information flow among scientists and researchers in developing and developed countries to share experiences or learn lessons from each other. International agencies should support long-term ecological research in Tibet so as to provide a baseline for understanding natural ecosystems and learning how to modify them most effectively, consistent with development need of the Tibetan people.

    Remote sensing and geographic information systems

    The data of remote sensing techniques, coupled with data management capacity of Geographic Information Systems(GIS), offer unprecedented opportunities to assess and monitor ecosystem processes. Training opportunities to Tibetans must be made available through international development assistance.

    Check population transfer

    The single most biggest threat to the environment of the Tibetan plateau, especially its wildlife is the transfer of huge number of Chinese settlers who open-up new forest regions for agriculture, industries and small factories. To inflict extra burden on the fragile environment of Tibet, according to Xu Chengshi and Zhong Bu ("Yangtze Exodus Begins", Panoscope: No.37, London 1993), some of the 1.2 million Chinese who will be evicted by the massive three Gorges Dam being build on the Yangtze River may go to Tibet. Sources within Tibet say at least 1 million Chinese will move to Kongpo region in Tibet because of climatic similarity with the Yangtze region from where the Chinese are being displaced. Moreover the increased number of Chinese settlers pouring into the lower valleys of Tibet (winter pastures of nomads) have disrupted the traditional migration pattern of nomadic herds, thereby pushing them to marginal areas leading to overgrazing. The conversion of marginal lands for agriculture for Chinese settlers has devastated the vast grasslands in Amdo (DIIR, 1996).

    Curb corruption and punish the guilty

    The guanxi the Chinese character for (personal connection) system is popular in China and this social disease is fast overtaking Tibet. For example, to log Tibet's forests one need to get a 'license' which can be easily obtained if right personal connection strings are in place. Thus some Chinese officials use the resources on the Tibetan Plateau as their private property and give permission to cut down trees, kill or hunt animals as they fancy. Mr. Gonpo Standing Committee member, Tibet People's Political Consultative Conference during the committee's meeting in Lhasa 16-22nd May 1995 said "Citizens of Lhasa and Nyingtri (in Kongpo region of Tibet) have expressed serious concern over the destruction of forest by timber poachers on the excuse that they have official 'license' from the various government forest departments (district, municipality, county, province) to fell trees." One can well imagine how many backdoor activities could be operated within these bureaucratic network.

    Community involvement and participation

    Recent research work in the development field by domestic, international, bilateral and multi-lateral agencies show that 'top-down' development projects is no longer the trend. For successful realization of a project 'bottom-up' strategy i.e. giving more decision making power to local people such as involving local people in project appraisal, implementation, and evaluation. This trend is obvious because local people have lived, sustained and survived in their native regions for thousands of years by maintaining the delicate balance of nature. Totalitarian China regime is still using the old style of controlling the masses through 'top-down' approach. This trend will soon crumble as China is fast opening its markets to international business ventures.

    International participation and action

    In 1980 Wolong Nature Reserve of Kham (incorporated in Sichuan), which is the main habitat of giant panda was designated as international biosphere conservation areas by the Man and the Biosphere Program of UNESCO. Such UNESCO actions should be further increased through international participation, pressure, activism to include major portion of rich forest resources of the eastern Tibetan Plateau as international biosphere reserves.


    The biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau in its richness could be compared to the rainforest of the Amazon basin. Till date it has not received the attention it deserve due to scare information flow and restrictions imposed on travellers and scientists by China. Tibetan Plateau is the storehouse of unique flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world, especially of high altitude species. Many rare, endemic and endangered plants and animals continues on the roller-coaster of extinction under the current China regime. The loss of these biological resources not only will lead to the extinction of certain species, but the drastic metamorphosis of the food chains and food webs of the ecosystem network in which they played vital role to build the web of life and maintain the delicate balance of the fragile ecosystem. It is therefore urgent to take concrete action not mere reaction to conserve the biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau, by focussing on achievable results by mutually working on joint projects with Tibetan NGOs, international NGOs, and government of China.

    The loss of the unique flora and fauna of the Tibetan Plateau has consequences far more profound than more widely recognized environmental dilemmas. Because the loss is irreversible- species that are lost are lost forever- the potential impact on the human condition, on the fabric of the Plateau's living system, and on the process of evolution is immense. What geographical imaginary lines we may draw on the globe, the fact is that all people in this world irrespective of race, nationality and sex share the same blue planet. Therefore, the conservation of biodiversity of the Tibetan Plateau is no doubt, a global responsibility.

    Conserving the biodiversity of the roof of the world- Tibet, will be symbol of global human strength and commitment to save other plant and animal species in peril elsewhere in the world. This will not only guarantee the long-term survival of rare and endangered wildlife of the Tibetan Plateau, but will ensure the protection of the Tibet- one of the most enchanting and sacred landscape on the earth for the benefit of our children as well.

    * Mr. Tsultrim Palden Dekhang has done his Master in Environmental Studies (MES) from Yale University, USA. M.Sc (Hons.) Botany, B.Ed from Panjab University, Chandiagarh. He is the Executive Head of EDD.


    Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR), 1996. Tibet: Proving Truth From Facts, DIIR Publication updated edition, 1996.
    Li Bosheng, 1995. Biodiversity of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and Its Conservation, ICIMOD Discussion Paper Series No. MNR 95/3, Kathmandu, Nepal.
    Agenda 21 for sustainable Agricultural Development in Tibet Autonomous Region. September 1996. Government of China.
    Palbar, Tenzin 1994. The Tragedy of My Homeland. Published by Narthang Publications, Dharamsala, India. pp. 453 (in Tibetan).
    Wu Sugong and Feng Zuojian, 1992. Characteristics and Utilisation and Conservation of Tibetan Biological Resources. In Proceedings of the First Workshop of the Chinese Research Society of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, 29-89. Beijing: Science Press.
    Schaller, George B. 1994. The Last Panda, The University of Chicago Press, USA.
    Smil, Vaclav, 1984. The Bad Earth: Environmental Degradation in China. M.E. Sharpe, Inc. Armonk, New York, USA pp.247.
    Zhang Rongzu, 1989. Case Study On Mountain Environmental Management: Nyemo County, Tibet. ICIMOD Occasional paper no. 13., Kathmandu, Nepal. pp.68
    The Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London..Last updated: 15-Sept-1997

    China Admits to Nuclear Waste on Tibetan Plateau

    Tibetan Government-in-exile denounced China's dumping of nuclear waste in Tibet way back in 1980s. In 1987 His Holiness the Dalai Lama released the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet, the fourth point in this plan called for: Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste. Tibetan government-in-exile's consistent condemnation of China's storing of nuclear waste in Tibet was reckoned with scepticism by the international media. The existence of nuclear waste was denounced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a press conference in Bangalore, India, in 1992. Beijing as usual, resolutely denied the existence of any nuclear waste dumping in Tibet. China's Nationalities Affairs Commission subsequently issued a document stating that allegations of nuclear pollution from deployment of nuclear weapons and nuclear waste in Tibet were "totally groundless."

    However, recently China has admitted to dumping nuclear waste in Tibet. This admission is a big blow to Chinese integrity but bestows great credibility to the Tibetan Government-in-exile and Tibet Support Groups (TSG) all over the world. Further details follows: Washington, D.C. (ICT), August 8, 1995 - For the first time, China has admitted to the existence of nuclear waste on the Tibetan plateau. An official Xinhua news report, published on 19th July 1993 said there is a "20 sq. m dump for radioactive pollutants" in Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture near the shores of lake Kokonor, the largest lake on the Tibetan Plateau. The report claimed that the military nuclear weapon facility, which produced the waste had maintained an "excellent" safety record during its 30 years of operation, and that there had not been "any harm to the environment and no one at the base ever died of radiation." "Nuclear waste pollution in the area is very low" and "many industries and ever increasing population of people are migrating into the area." The report did not give details as to how the nuclear waste was initial contained and how it is currently being maintained. It did say that the Chinese government spent a large amount of money from 1989 to 1993 to "strictly supervise the environmental conditions of this nuclear weapon base," according to You Deliang, spokesman for the China Nuclear Industry Corporation.

    A 1993 report, Nuclear Tibet, released by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Washington, D.C., documented reports by a local Tibetan doctor, Dr. Tashi Dolma of abnormally high rates of diseases in the nearby towns of Reshui and Ganzihe. The doctors also treated the children of nomads who grazed their animals adjacent to the nuclear base. Seven of whom died of cancer over five year period. The doctor was unable to pursue inquiries to determine the likelihood of a connection to the nuclear base. The nuclear base, known as the "Ninth Academy" or "Factory 211" was China's primary nuclear weapons research and production facility which produced all of China's early nuclear weapons. ICT's report Nuclear Tibet provided the first public in-depth account of the facility, and concluded that while the nature and quantity of the nuclear waste was unclear, its existence was undeniable. During the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear waste from the facility was disposed of in a roughshod and haphazard manner.

    The decision to locate the facility on the Tibetan plateau was made by Li Jue, who had been a deputy commander and chief of staff of the Tibet Military Region in the years following the invasion of Tibet. The earliest known reference to the facility in the West was in a 1966 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report which referred to a "Koko Nor nuclear weapons center." Even though the Chinese government is now acknowledging the existence and role of the facility, the CIA told ICT that the existence of records pertaining to the facility remains classified. The Xinhua article said that the nuclear base, which used to have 1,170 sq. km. of forbidden zone, only appeared as grassland on ordinary maps. This nuclear weapons facility happened to be decommissioned in 1987, the year the Dalai Lama called upon China to make Tibet a nuclear free zone. In 1993 the same nuclear production center was shifted to Tso-ngon province (Qinghai Province) and gave the responsibility of maintaining it to the Tso-ngon Province Administration.

    DIIR, Dharamsala, 26th July, 1995-A United Daily News report dated 10th July, 1995 from Taiwan says that on May 15th China made a public announcement that it is closing the nuclear weapon production at Tso-ngon (Qinghai) Province of Eastern Tibet.
    According to official Chinese news agent Xinhua, today the base is the world's first retired research and production base for nuclear weapon, this site is now occupied by factories, shops, hospitals and local houses and birds are known to nest in the area.

    However, Office of Research & Analysis of HH the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala tells a different story. It said, "The above nuclear production center being transformed into 'factories' seems certain. But still these 'factories' are secretly guarded by Chinese security personnel round the clock. Therefore, local Tibetans strongly feel that a further investigation is necessary to see whether the closing announcement is really true or not."
    Still many nuclear missiles remain stationed on the Tibetan Plateau. A report by the National Resource Defense Council, Washington, D.C., on 24th March 1994 states that China currently has nuclear missiles stationed on the Tibetan Plateau at least three sites: These are: 1. Delingha (37.60N, 97.12E); 2. Da Qaidam (37.50N, 95.18E) and 3. Xiao Qaidam (37.26N, 95.08E)

    Reference : Nuclear Tibet. 1993 (ICT); National Resource Defense Council (24/3/94); Xinhua (19/7/95); United Daily News (10/7/95). (Green Tibet - Annual Newsletter 1996)

    Tibetan's flag

    "The Tibetan national flag is intimately connected with the authentic history and royal lineages of Tibet which are thousands of years old. Furthermore, in the Tibetan Royal year 820 or in the seventh century of the Christian era, at the time of the Tibetan religious King Song-Tsen Gamp the Great extensive land of Tibet was divided into large and small districts known as "gö-kyi tong-de" and "yung-g'i mi-de". From these large and small districts, an army of 2,860,000 men was chosen and stationed along the borders of Tibet, and the subjects thus lived in safety. The bravery and heroism of the Tibetan people at that time in conquering and ruling even the adjacent empire of China is well-known in world history.

    "At that time, it is recorded that the regiment of Yö-ru tö had a military flag with a pair of snow-lions facing each other; that Yä-ru mä had a snow-lion with a bright upper border; that of Tsang Rulag, had a snow-lion standing upright, springing towards the sky; and the flag of ü-ru tö had a white flame against a red background, and so forth. In this way. the regiments of each area had its own individual military standard. Continuing with that tradition up to the beginning of the twentieth century, various regiments within the Tibetan army have had military flags with either a pair of snow-lions facing each other, or a snow-lion springing upwards and so forth.

    "In the latter part of this period, during the rule of His Holiness the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, this eminent spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet enacted many modifications in administrative policies in accordance with international customs. Based on the formats of previous Tibetan military flags, His Holiness improved upon them and designed the present, modern national flag. With an official proclamation, He declared that this would be the uniform, standard flag to be adopted by all Tibetan military defence establishments. Since the time of that proclamation, all Tibetan regiments have likewise adopted this flag as their standard.

    "The colour scheme of the Tibetan national flag gives a clear indication of all aspects of Tibet in its symbolism such as the geographic features of the religious. snowy land of Tibet, the customs and traditions of Tibetan society, the political administration of the Tibetan government and so forth.

    "History attests to the fact that Tibet is one of the most ancient nations of the world. Therefore, in all the three regions of Tibet, irrespective of caste and creed, this national flag inherited from our ancestors is universally accepted as a common, peerless treasure and even today still continues to be highly respected and esteemed as in the past."

    An Explanation of the Symbolism of the National Flag of Tibet

    • In the centre stands a magnificent thickly snow clad mountain, which represents the great nation of Tibet, widely known as the Land Surrounded by Snow Mountains.
    • Across the dark blue sky six red bands spread representing the original ancestors of the Tibetan people: the six tribes called Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dru and Ra which in turn gave the [twelve] descendants. The combination of six red bands (for the tribes) and six dark blue bands for the sky represents the incessant enactment of the virtuous deeds of protection of the spiritual teachings and secular life by the black and red guardian protector deities with which Tibet has had connection for a very long time.
    • At the tip of the snow mountain, the sun with its rays brilliantly shining in all directions represents the equal enjoyment of freedom, spiritual and material happiness and prosperity by all beings in the land of Tibet.
    • On the slopes of the mountain there proudly stand a pair of snow lions blazing with the manes of fearlessness, which represent the country's victorious accomplishment of a unified spiritual and secular life.
    • The beautiful and radiant three coloured jewel held aloft represents the ever-present reverence respectfully held by the Tibetan people towards the Three Supreme Jewels (the Buddhist objects of refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha).
    • The two coloured swirling jewel held between the two lions represents the peoples' guarding and cherishing the self discipline of correct ethical behaviour, principally represented by the practices of the ten exalted virtues and the 16 humane modes of conduct.
    • Lastly, the surrounding border of yellow adorning the perimeter represents the spread and flourishing in all directions and times of the purified gold like teachings of the Buddha.


    Tibetan National Anthem

    Si chi p’ène dé deu kou tchoung ouè tér
    T’oup tène same p’él nor pu eu nang bar
    Tène dreu nor dzine guia tchér kyong ouè gueune
    Trine lè kyi reul ts’o guiè
    Dor djé kame sou tène pè tchok kune tchame dzé kyong
    Name keu ga oua guia dène ou pang koung la rék
    P’une ts’ok dé chi nga t’ang guiè
    Peu djong tch’eul k’a soume gui k’yeune la dé kyi dzok dène sar pè kyap
    Tch’eu si kyi pèl yeune tar
    T’oup tène tch’ok tchour guiè pè dzame ling yang pè kyé kou chi dé pèl la tchor
    Peu djong tène dreu gué ts’ène nyi eu kyi tra chi eu nang boume tou tr’o ouè si
    Nak tch’ok mune pè yul lè guièl guiour tchik

    Let the radiant light shine of Buddha’s wish-fulfilling gem teachings,
    The treasure mine of all hopes for happiness and benefit in both worldly life and Liberation.
    O Protectors who hold the jewel of the teachings and all beings, nourishing them greatly, may the sum of your virtuous deeds grow full.
    Firmly enduring in a diamond-hard state, guard all directions with compassion and love.
    Above our heads may divinely appointed rule abide endowed with a hundred benefits and let the power increase of four fold auspiciousness,
    May a new golden age of happiness and bliss spread throughout the three provinces of Tibet and the glory expand of religious-secular rule.
    By the spread of Buddha’s teachings in the ten directions, may everyone throughout the world enjoy the glories of happiness and peace.
    In the battle against dark negative forces may the auspicious sunshine of the teachings and beings of Tibet
    And the brilliance of a myriad radiant prosperities be ever triumphant.
    This translation has been prepared by the Tibetan Works and Archives, Sherpa Tulku and Khamlung Tulku – January 1975.

End of the page