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Illegal miners threaten wild camel's survival
From Jane Macartney in Beijing
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25689-1987253,00.html

ON AN expedition in China's remote Lop Nur desert six years ago the British explorer and camel conservationist John Hare stumbled across a valley whose rare argali sheep and endangered wild Tibetan asses had never seen man.
Returning late last year to the Kum Su spring, Mr Hare found a valley of death. Sheep skeletons lay on the ground and no living animal was to be seen. Gold-miners had found the spring and had used its water for the processing of rock with potassium cyanide to extract the precious metal. They had shot the sheep for food and left behind 74 opened four-gallon cyanide drums. Mr Hare, founder of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, said: "You can imagine my feelings - to go into a naive animal population is so rare on this planet and to go back and to find the whole thing devastated."

The spring lies in hills at the foot of the Arjin escarpment, in the foothills of Tibet within the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve that covers 65,000 sq km (25,000 sq miles) of mostly inhospitable desert in far western China. For decades this was a nuclear testing ground. Mr Hare said: "If this is not checked in the Arjin and Kunlun mountains it will be lethal to all wildlife." It was another survey of the wild Bactrian camel, the last in the world, that had taken the explorer to the Kum Su spring. In the spring in 1999 he saw a wild camel waddle away into the desert at his approach. On his visit last year, he saw none.

Nevertheless, he believes that 650 of the double-humped camels - on the critically endangered list of the World Conservation Union since 2002 - still roam in Lop Nur. Aerial surveys to assess the numbers are impossible since the shy animals make their home in what remains a military zone. Threats to the survival of the dwindling herds come not only from the miners, but from hunters and wolves. There were 3,000 wild camels in 1980-81 but it is now outnumbered by the endangered panda, estimated at 1,000 still in the wild.

more info www.wildcamels.com

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