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Endangered camels under threat from water shortage

2012-11-19 14:55 Xinhua     Web Editor: Gu Liping comment

A scientist working with rare wild camels in northwest China has told of research showing the animals are increasing in number but are coming under threat from drought.

The camels, among the most endangered large mammals on Earth, undergo seasonal migration of several hundred km through the sandy Annanba Nature Reserve, located in the Altun mountain range straddling the border between Gansu Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

There are only 420 to 470 of them in China, even fewer than the number of wild pandas.

Annanba is one of the four state-level nature reserves for the species set up by the Chinese government in the country's northwestern regions in recent years.

Bai Shengxuan, a research director with the reserve, said a global positioning system and five infrared cameras used to track the camels had shown their number in the area has increased because of protection efforts.

However, research initiated by the reserve also found a current severe water shortage is a worry, even for animals which can famously survive long periods of thirst.

Wild camels are often found tracking water resources in flocks, and some of them recently are dying before finding any water, said Bai.

According to the research, due to global warming, the rainless Altun Mountain area has been suffering from even more deficit in precipitation, as snow and ice coverage on the mountain is shrinking as the underground water level is declining. Many creeks and springs have dried up, and some wetland has become salinized.

In addition, human encroachment has also aggravated water shortages, according to Bai.

"Mining workers and precious stone collectors often escape the supervision of the reserve, finding, consuming and polluting the limited water here," he said.

To prevent the water from evaporating, the reserve built a 25-square-m water pool two years ago, and it has become an important habitat along the camels' migratory route.

Bai said more pools would be built, and weather modification technologies would also be adopted to bring more precipitation.

The research director urged people to help with the camels' rehabilitation by not interfering with them or their habitat.

"Every single detail in the Gobi desert -- mountains, trees, water and grass -- is closely related to the fate of China's wild camels," he said.

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