Lop Nur is is a group of small, seasonal salt lakes and marshes between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts in the southeastern portion of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region in northwestern China. A former nuclear test site, the area is home to some of the last surviving herds of wild Bactrian camels.
The 65,000 square kilometre Xinjiang Lop Nur Wild Camel Nature Reserve was created in 1999 to protect the wild camels and their fragile desert habitat. Yuan Lei, our latest EDGE Fellow, appointed by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) in consultation with the Lop Nur Wild Camel Nature Reserve spent three weeks in the reserve in April. During his visit he carried out behavioural and ecological studies, investigated threats, and assisted in the creation of a television programme for China Central Television (CCTV) to raise awareness of the threats facing the species.
Yuan Lei’s work took him to both Lop Nur (Lake Lop) – where temperatures varied between 40°C during the day and -5°C at night – and the Arjiin Mountain where he encountered heavy snow and wind. Some of the snow had melted which meant that there was water in some of the springs – good news for the desert flora and fauna.
Yuan Lei was lucky enough to observe a total of 6 wild Bactrian camels during the expedition as well as a number of fresh camel footprints, Tibetan donkeys, gazelles and argali sheep.
The most serious threat to the camel population appeared to be hunting – three young camels were discovered that had been shot by hunters. The bodies of the camels were left where they fell, indicating that the animals were shot for sport rather than for their meat.
Illegal herding may also be a threat to the camels in the reserve. Yuan Lei and his team encountered over 5000 sheep and goats plus a number of domestic camels during their stay. They also discovered that people entered the reserve to collect beautiful stones.
Yuan Lei hopes to return to the reserve this month to continue to assess the threats facing wild camels in the area and work out what needs to be done to address them. He also plans to identify possible sites for the translocation or reintroduction of new populations, which would expand the range of this vulnerable species.
The annual survey of Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve is part-funded by the WCPF. See here for more information on the reserve.