Author Archives: laoban

Lake Issykul ecotourism project, October 2019

Translation/adaptation of an article recently shared on social media across China about an ecotourism project trialled in Kyrgyzstan in October 2019, organized by Horseback Planet Society (HPS), Plateau Perspectives (PP) and other partners… (original article is here)

PDF version of article:


What you don’t know about snow leopards in China and Kyrgyzstan

New observation from Kyrgyzstan, January 1st, 2020

In ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ actor Sean Penn plays a photographer waiting for snow leopard to appear between the mountain ridges. He called snow leopards “ghost cats” and also noted that “beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” It is hoped that with renewed efforts to protect the snow leopard, these spirits of the snow mountains can have an enlarged living space in the world.

Snow leopard in the Sanjiangyuan region Photograph (c) Marc Foggin. (NOTE: The photograph included in the original article published in China is not shown here, as that article failed to credit the photographer, Sebastian Kennerknecht.)

Snow leopards are listed in the Kyrgyzstan Red List of Wildlife Species. Additionally, it is clearly stipulated that anyone who poaches an animal in the Red List will incur a fine of 1.5 million Kyrgyz som (around 150, 000 CNY or $21,500 USD).

Snow leopard is a rare species worldwide, listed as ‘Vulnerable’

In Kyrgyzstan, the snow leopard is regarded as a patron of warriors, standing for beauty, strength and freedom. In Bishkek, snow leopards are printed on its city flag and emblem. There are also many decorations with snow leopards in the local market.

In 2013, the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum was held in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. At the forum, the 12 Asian countries where snow leopards are distributed signed the Bishkek Declaration on snow leopard conservation and established October 23 as the annual International Snow Leopard Day.

According to research, less than 7,000 snow leopards exist worldwide, with 60 percent of them in China, and they are thus listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.

According to the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), there are between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards remaining in the wild, worldwide. The approximate distribution is as follows:

Snow leopard range countries Estimated population
China (including Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia) 2000-2500
Bhutan 100-200
Uzbekistan 20-50
Kyrgyzstan 150-500
Tajikistan 180-220
Pakistan 200-420
India 200-600
Nepal 300-500
Mongolia 800-1700

In July 2018, the Snow Leopard Trust posted a video showing snow leopard cubs captured by cameras installed in the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve [also see a blog about field work here, and recent news here]. The reserve was established in 1995 in Issykul oblast (province) to protect the unique natural ecology and rare and endangered animals and plants in the greater Issykul Lake region.

Hao Xingqi, a Chinese actress, becomes an ambassador for snow leopard conservation in the Kyrgyz Republic

Ms. Hao Xingqi, a Chinese actress, received a Snow Leopard Ecological Protection and Promotion certificate and trophy, along with a Recognition award from Kyrgyzstan on October 15, 2019. As the first Chinese artist to participate in snow leopard conservation in Kyrgyzstan, serving as a volunteer for a non-profit organization [Horseback Planet], Hao’s support of community conservation through ecotourism is regarded by Kyrgyz authorities as a model for future dialogue and cultural exchanges between the countries.

From China’s Sanjiangyuan (Three Rivers’ Headwaters) area in the heart of the Tibetan plateau to the landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, from personally caring for and raising animals to dedicating herself to protecting the beautiful yet endangered snow leopard – the King of the snow mountains – Hao Xingqi has chosen a better way to bring meaning to her life, and demonstrate this to others, rather than just film creation.

Ms. Hao told us that when she first travelled to Tibet a few years ago, in addition to seeing and experiencing traditional and exotic customs, she also witnessed some cruel killings… It was this experience that inspired her. She says, “I simply wish to protect animals from getting hurt, so they can peacefully coexist with humans.” By chance, Xingqi learned about the snow leopard conservation project supported by ecotourism in Kyrgyzstan. “I chose to take this opportunity to learn valuable ideas and strategies from international experience, which may be helpful for me as I seek to promote public welfare back in the Sanjiangyuan area, in Yushu and in Tibet, back in China,” she said.

Therefore, Xingqi joined the one-week “Kyrgyzstan Snow Leopard Rangers” project in October 2019 and participated in the horseback patrol training camp – personally assisting as a forest ranger at a local national park and taking part in wildlife monitoring and horseback riding training.

While the Issykul Lake region is beautiful and romantic, especially as the autumn leaves are in full colour, the main focus of Xingqi’s attention, her excitement, and furthermore her increasing sense of responsibility rests with the fundamental question of whether, and how, she can best promote conservation of this species of global interest, the snow leopard, by means of ecotourism and in partnership with local mountain communities.

Most certainly, she and the other members of the training camp and study tour are only followers, and the main “guardians” of snow leopards are the local community rangers. Yet she senses that she has an important role to play and now is endeavouring to inform the whole world about the mysterious and beautiful big cat, the rare and endangered snow leopard, and the ways through which we can protect it and its mountain habitats.

Recognizing the role that Ms. Hao can play as “snow leopard conservation ambassador” in China, just as Angelina Jolie is doing for the conservation of this wonderful species elsewhere, the Kyrgyz government was glad to award her recognition and encourage her to further develop her leading role in Chinese society and promote friendship ties.

For all the above reasons, Hao Xingqi said that this is not only a new experience in her life, but it also brings to her a deep sense of responsibility. “In the future, in addition to continuing to support ecotourism, snow leopard conservation and cultural exchanges between China and Kyrgyzstan, we will also pay more attention to domestic ecotourism and snow leopard conservation activities – in particular in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the Sanjiangyuan region [editor’s note: the Chinese term ‘Sanjiangyuan’ refers to the vast headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers] including the shooting of documentary films and developing educational materials on the theme of environment protection,” she said. “After all, development of conservation approaches for protecting the snow leopard and its ecosystems is also promising in China, and I feel compelled to devote myself to conservation and development of the motherland.”

Kyrgyz National News Agency (Kabar), National Geographic, Theatre club


Translator (Kyrgyz-Chinese): Anya

Translation (Chinese-English): Yiyanjiuding Translation Company

Article aadapted by J. Marc Foggin




In October 2019 Ms Hao Xingqi travelled from Lhasa, China, to Kyrgyzstan to join a small team led by Horseback Planet Society and Plateau Perspectives with the aim to strengthen community conservation in the Tianshan Mountains – focusing on the snow leopard and its montane ecosystems – through development of ecotourism. Other partners in this project included Ilbirs Foundation and Araketke-Bereket, along with the participation of representatives from CAMP Alatoo, UNDP Kyrgyzstan, Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP), and others, at the launch event.

Starting with a project launch meeting at Ololohaus in Bishkek, the ecotourism-centred development project focused on strengthening partnerships with communities in the Lake Issykul region. At the end of the study tour, the project culminated with an award received from the White House for contributions made toward promoting Kyrgyzstan abroad, advancing the development of community-beneficial ecotourism, and strengthening Chinese-Kyrgyz friendship ties.

Ecotourism has three main aims: (i) to contribute in tangible ways towards conservation outcomes, (ii) to benefit local communities, and (iii) to raise environmental awareness and advance education and a range of professional capacities for all ecotourism partners.

A film has been made about this project and will soon be released – stay posted!

The original article in Chinese is published here.


Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, 14 February 2020

In memory of Dr Tony Whitten

Dr Tony Whitten served as a very much appreciated member of Plateau Perspectives’ International Council of Reference from 2004 until 2010. It is with great sadness that we note his passing away in late November, aged 64, in a cycling accident. He was known as passionate advocate for some of the world’s least-known creatures and for new approaches to wildlife conservation, as well as his strong Christian faith and active engagement with multiple faith communities around the world. He is missed by all. All of us from the Plateau Perspectives family across many countries extend our condolences to his wife, children, and the whole family.

Tribute on BBC Radio 4: Tony Whitten, the passionate conservationist who had eleven species named after him. (starting at time 13:18, until time 18:33)


Source: The Guardian, 8 December 2017

Tony Whitten obituary

Passionate advocate for some of the world’s least-known creatures and for new approaches to wildlife conservation
Eleven species, including a dung beetle, a gecko and a snail, were named after Tony Whitten
 Eleven species, including a dung beetle, a gecko and a snail, were named after Tony Whitten

Tony Whitten, who has died aged 64 in a cycling accident, was an inspirational figure in global conservation circles thanks to his collaboration with religious groups and his passionate advocacy for some of the world’s least-known creatures. Like the snails, beetles and mites that he championed, Whitten was never a household name, but his influence as a mentor and explorer – particularly in the caves and rocky environments of Asia – was such that 11 species have been named after him. He was also instrumental in the first fatwa declared against the illegal wildlife trade.

At the time of his death, he was senior adviser at Flora & Fauna International, one of the world’s oldest conservation organisations, and had recently established a specialist group on karst habitats – the crags, caves, sinkholes and disappearing streams formed by the dissolution of limestone and other soluble rocks – for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The son of Jack Whitten, a chartered accountant, and his wife, Mollie (nee Smart), Tony grew up in Dulwich, south London, and made regular visits with his family to London Zoo, one of the origins of his love of animals, which he retained throughout his life, along with a strong Christian faith and enthusiasm for choir. As a teenager at Dulwich college, he wrote his first scientific paper on the sense of smell of ducks (studying birds he had raised from eggs in his bedroom) and was heavily involved in the biology society – a platform he used to persuade the school to plant a run of trees, which can still be seen today. At the age of 18, he became the youngest recipient at the time of the Churchill fellowship, which he used to visit New Zealand to study blue ducks.

He took environmental science at Southampton University, where he met his future wife, Jane Trussell. The couple moved to Cambridge as postgraduates, and shortly after getting married in 1976 they spent two years on Siberut, one of the small Mentawai islands off the west coast of Sumatra, where Whitten studied Kloss’s gibbon for his doctorate.

Tony Whitten, a biodiversity specialist at the World Bank for many years, described himself as ‘an odd bird’ in the institution, a rare species of ecologist among the thousands of economists
 Tony Whitten, a biodiversity specialist at the World Bank for many years, described himself as ‘an odd bird’ in the institution, a rare species of ecologist among the thousands of economists

It was the start of a lifelong passion for Asia, its ecology and people. The couple later lived for 10 years in Indonesia, where Whitten was employed variously for the Centre of Environmental Studies at the University of North Sumatra and the Dalhousie University of Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also worked as a consultant on infrastructure projects in China and Mongolia, joining the World Bank as a biodiversity specialist in 1995.

Whitten described himself as “an odd bird” in the institution, a rare species of ecologist among the thousands of economists who made the momentum for “development” far more powerful than the brakes of conservation. Although outnumbered, he was widely respected as a scientist and a voice for the natural world.

A former colleague, Andrew Steer – now president of the World Resources Institute – described him as “delightfully disruptive”, lecturing officials on the importance of biodiversity. “If you claim to care about long-term economic growth and poverty reduction,” he would say, “you must care about the fate of species you’ve never heard of.”

Nonetheless, Whitten was not always listened to as he would have liked. In a blog post in 2009, he lamented the decline of megafauna on the Yangtze, notably the baiji dolphin, paddlefish, sturgeon, finless porpoise and Chinese alligator, as a result of the Three Gorges and other dams on the river and its tributaries. The warning signs, he said, had been apparent almost two decades earlier when he was working to prepare an environmental impact assessment for the Ertan dam, which was to be financed by what was then the largest World Bank loan.

“All in all a pretty depressing picture,” he wrote. “There are of course many scientists in China who are concerned about the demise of these amazing animals, but there is certainly no national outrage that extinction point has been reached. It thus makes one rather despondent about the path of Chinese conservation.”

Such gloom was unusual. Colleagues and friends described Whitten as an inspiring optimist, who spent time mentoring the next generation and was constantly willing to explore new approaches to wildlife conservation. A man of faith with an open mind, he worked with Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Baha’ist, Jain, Sikh and Greek Orthodox leaders – as well as the archbishop of Canterbury, the British royal family and the World Bank – to help found the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a meeting point of secular ecology and theology that aimed to find new economic models. One of his proudest achievements was helping to persuade Muslim clerics to declare the fatwa against the illegal wildlife trade in 2014.

He also raised the profile of less fashionable ecological causes, writing a book on snails, publishing 111 field guides in local languages, and having Wolf Totem – a Chinese bestseller about wolves on the steppes – translated into Mongolian. He also wrote what he called “popular” books on gibbons and the ecology of Java, Bali and Siberut.

He communicated with colleagues and a wider audience through a blog that mixed astute scientific observation, groan-out-loud puns and life-on-the-road adventures with tales of searching for komodo dragons in the Lesser Sunda Islands, staying at a Mongolian ger tent camp owned by a sumo champion, attending a conference at a tiger workshop in Kathmandu and reflecting on the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK (a post memorably written at the Royal Albert Hall while he was waiting for the opening strains of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto).

He resigned from the World Bank in 2010 rather than accept a transfer from Asia to Africa, a continent about which he knew virtually nothing. He parted with fond reminiscences of his 16 years at the institution: meeting Papa Kahoho, probably the last semi-nomadic member of the Forest Tobelo people; seeing wild ass racingacross the stony Gobi desert; watching a dawn display of dancing by Wallace’s standardwing bird-of-paradise on the island of Halmahera, and breaking his finger while climbing a limestone hill in Laos to see a particularly beautiful green snail. “I realise I have never really blogged about the wonders of snails,” he wrote, before adding with typically self-deprecating humour. “Only a few may be disappointed.”

A move to Flora & Fauna International – which includes David Attenborough and David Bellamy among its vice-presidents – allowed him to pursue that passion. Initially working as Asia Pacific regional director, he later became a senior adviser and participated in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, a coalition of universities and NGOs. He continued to travel, research and campaign. He lobbied cement companies in south-east Asia not to blast limestone areas that are home to snails and many other rare animals, which would cause even greater levels of extinction, he feared, than palm oil plantations. In 2016, he was part of a team that discovered 15 new species of gecko in Burma. A few days before his death he led a tour to eastern Indonesia.

Species named after him include a dung beetle, a soil mite, a transluscent snail, a Bali river fish and, most recently, a gecko found in Myanmar, Hemiphyllodactylus tonywhitteni. Not everyone would want to be associated with such uncharismatic minifauna, but Whitten – ever the enthusiast for causes that others deemed unfashionable – was delighted. In an interview earlier this year, he said his personal favourite was a blind cave beetle, Pilosaphaenops whitteni, from Guangxi province, southern China, that has adapted to its dark habitat thanks to hugely elongated legs and antennae.

Whitten is survived by Jane, and their children, Ruth, Peter, Jon and Andy, and two grandchildren, and by his sister, Mary.

 Tony Whitten, conservationist, born 10 April 1953; died 29 November 2017

A selection of tributes available online:


Documentary video presented on Hong Kong Television

Developed over the past couple years, a documentary has just been released on HKS. The documentary video presents the rich experiences of Plateau Perspectives’ committed volunteers who have devoted themselves to environmental conservation and community development in the Sanjiangyuan region in Qinghai Province, China, since 1998.

From the producers:

“Plateau Perspectives, a Canadian nonprofit organization established in 1998, was established to protect the ecology of the Tibetan Plateau and improve the wellbeing of local communities. This film was produced by a third party, which sought to capture and record the real volunteers of Plateau Perspectives and their daily life, work and relationships with the local residents as they continuously promote environmental protection and people’s wellbeing. In the creation of this video, the soul and nature of their work are captured, combined with visuals of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. An ambitious and nuanced, multi-perspective analysis is presented, striving to bring to the audience a strong sensory experience and deep visual enjoyment. Creating the mood was achieved through a complete fit of visuals together with the narrative, and a sensual blending of music with fascinating scenes. The viewer’s eyes and thoughts are carried through beautiful leisurely imagination, with images aiding in interpreting the development of life and nature.”  [Translated from Chinese]

Originally posted at


“Living with Snow Leopard” photo exhibition

A photo exhibition entitled Living with Snow Leopard: People, Livelihoods & Landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau and the Mountains of Central Asia was on display at the global Snow Leopard Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 24-25 August 2017.

Dr Marc Foggin is a conservation biologist who has worked in close partnership with Tibetan herding communities in the Yangtze River headwaters for over 20 years. Marc has provided support for the emergence of civil society and contributed to community development and environmental conservation on the Tibetan Plateau through his NGO, Plateau Perspectives. Marc also co-leads a program of research on sustainable mountain development through his senior role at the Mountain Societies Research Institute, University of Central Asia. His work and travels have enabled him to document through photographs the extraordinary yet rapidly changing landscapes and livelihoods in the mountains of Western China and Central Asia.

View photo exhibition here


Third Pole Science Summit 2017

After the North and South Poles, the Third Pole is the highland core of Asia, and includes the Hindu-Kush, Karakorum, Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau and all the mountain ranges that surround it. This region provides the water resource and ecosystem services to billions of people in Asia. It is well accepted that the regional environmental change will have huge implications for millions of people living in the Third Pole region and downstream areas. Understanding the mechanisms of the earth system multi-sphere (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere) interactions in the Third Pole is becoming one of the hottest topics for global environmental research, and it is also an urgent task for the scientific community to support the sustainable development of the Third Pole region.

A presentation about ‘inclusive biodiversity conservation’ in the Sanjiangyuan region, authored by Drs Foggin and Tashi (from the University of Central Asia (UCA) and Tibet University (TU), respectively), was delivered by Gongbo Tashi at the Third Pole Science Summit held in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China, on 10-12 July 2017.

The presentation also is available as a case study on the ICCA Consortium website.

DisneyNature: Born in China

Disneynature, in its ongoing quest to bring the natural world to the big screen as never before, presents its most ambitious project to date, taking moviegoers on a grand journey into the wilds of China. “Born In China” follows the adventures of three animal families — the majestic panda, the savvy golden monkey and the elusive snow leopard. Featuring stunning imagery, the film navigates the vast terrain—from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest—on the wings of a red-crowned crane, showcasing remarkably intimate family moments captured on film for the first time ever.

Dr Marc Foggin, Mr Doug Henderson and Dr Gongbo Tashi of Plateau Perspectives are recognized in the credits for their contributions and support for obtaining the extraordinary snow leopard footage.

Official DisneyNature | Born in China website

Advancing biodiversity conservation and community development in Qinghai Province, China

The Mountain Research Initiative, 19 July 2014

The UNDP/GEF Qinghai Biodiversity Conservation Project was successfully launched by the Qinghai Forestry Department in January 2013 with support and co-financing from the provincial government. Most of the province is situated over 4000 meters – including the Qilian, Kunlun, Tanggula and other high mountain ranges. A spectacular suite of globally endangered wildlife is still present in these highlands, including Tibetan antelope, wild yak, white lipped deer, argali, snow leopard, black necked crane, saker falcon, etc.


Advancing biodiversity conservation and community development in Qinghai Province, China by Marc Foggin on Plateau Perspectives


UNDP/GEF Photo Exhibit

UNDP in Asia & the Pacific, 26 May 2014

The ecosystems we live within and the biodiversity that enriches them form the web of life on which every human being depends. This vibrant and amazing shared home has endured and evolved for millennia. But the seven billion humans alive today are collectively exploiting the Earth’s resources at increasing intensity and its biodiversity is being lost at unprecedented rates.

This series of photos present the multiple contributions of protected areas to human wellbeing and sustainable development. It also presents successes from the protected area projects financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Protected areas also have a role to play in addressing many 21st century challenges—by securing livelihoods, mitigating climate change and promoting resilience.

Parks for Development by UNDP in Asia & the Pacific on Exposure

Third Pole | A Photo Story by Kieran Dodds

Kieran Dodds, 2014

“Education will ruin our culture” laments Dorje, a local Tibetan teacher describing how compulsory education is driving the resettlement of nomads. “These lifestyles are endangered. You rarely see people on horseback nowadays. To improve the living standard depends on education but to save our culture depends more on the people”. The Tibetan plateau is the world’s third pole, with vast ice-fields giving rise to waterways that influence the lives of 40% of the global population downstream. Sanjiangyuan (or ‘The Three Rivers Headwaters’) Nature Reserve is China’s water tower, strategically vital and jealously guarded. Yet it is also home to some of the last Tibetan nomads whose traditional lifestyle is now, more then ever, under threat. “The waters from Sanjiangyuan sustain life for 600 million people downstream but in recent years this vast water tower is under threat,” says Dr Marc Foggin, a conservation biologist.

5 Myths About China and the Environment

Guest Blogger on National Geographic, 5 September 2013

Myth: The High Tibetan Plateau is Buffered from Climate Change

“The North Pole, South Pole, and Tibetan Plateau are changing more rapidly than elsewhere,” says Marc Foggin, executive director of Plateau Perspectives, an international organization that aims to improve local people’s lives and protect the natural environment through community-based projects.

“There is a demonstrated increase in temperature over time and it is doubling that of the global overall average increase in temperature,” said Foggin.

Glaciers in the west of China on the Tibetan Plateau have been retreating since the beginning of the 20th Century. The retreat has accelerated since the 1980s.

“Grasslands [on the Tibetan Plateau] and the peatlands within them serve effectively as a sponge,” explains Foggin. But when that land is degraded, it can no longer store water from spring melt, and that leads to flooding.

Be inspired: One person can help foster sustainable lives for millions

Stephen Hesse, 24 March 2013

Launched in January, this five-year project — co-financed by the provincial government, the UNDP and the GEF — seeks to increase the efficiency of PA management in this region where wetlands cover 6 percent of the area, including rivers, flooded grasslands and both freshwater and saline lakes.

“Important ecological services provided here affect 5.5 million people locally and nearly all China’s population,” the project’s International Technical Adviser, Marc Foggin, wrote in an article. “Altogether, the rivers that originate on the Tibetan Plateau affect over one-third of the world’s human population. Many rare and endangered wildlife species live in the province, including its high grasslands as well as the arid Qaidam Basin and rugged Qilian Mountains,” he notes.

Mountainous Qinghai’s climate is cold, dry and windy, with long winters and short summers; and its ecosystems are fragile.

KORA: Adventure Wear Inspired by Yaks

Larry Closs, 4 February 2013

Our primary goal is to support positive change among the communities who supply our wool. We buy at a fair rate directly from herder families, and we pay this same rate throughout the buying season. This gives herders security, as the price they earn is often dependent on the whim of the agent in town that day. We also pay a stipend, which this year was about 10 percent on top of the purchase price. We buy the wool and pay the stipend via a herders’ cooperative called KeGaWa.

In time we will look for opportunities to employ locals and we will work with an NGO that has long-term hands-on developmental and environmental experience in this area: Plateau Perspectives. They are really well-placed to support us so we are lucky.

Promised Land

South China Morning Post, 6 January 2013

The Sanjiangyuan (or “Three Rivers Headwaters”) Nature Reserve acts as China’s water tower. Covering 363,000 square kilometres at an average elevation of 4,000 metres, it is also home to the last Tibetan nomads.

“The waters from Sanjiangyuan sustain life for 600 million people downstream but in recent years this vast water tower has been under threat,” says Marc Foggin, a conservation biologist at the NGO Plateau Perspectives, who has studied life on the plateau for 15 years. “And what affects China, affects the world.”

That threat is environmental degradation. In 2000, officials panicked when they found dried-up lakebeds and grasslands turning to desert near the source of the Yellow River, in Guoluo county, Qinghai. The Yellow and Yangtze rivers function as China’s two major arteries, flowing through its industrial heartland. The third of the “three rivers”, the Mekong, also flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The future of China and Southeast Asia depends on how this water source is managed. […]

In 2010, an earthquake destroyed Yushu, the largest town in the Three Rivers Reserve, with the loss of more than 2,600 lives. While most buildings crumbled, a statue of Tibet’s mythic King Gesar remained standing in the town centre. Beijing has pledged to rebuild Yushu as an ecological city centred on King Gesar Square and the rebuilt hill-top monastery: twin totems of Tibetan culture. An airport and 800 kilometres of dual carriageway from the provincial capital will bring in tourists seeking an authentic cultural experience.

Horse festivals on the plains near Yushu have again become popular, despite government restrictions on large gatherings in the province. Resettlement villages have their own regular races – a reaction, perhaps, to “settled” life.

“No culture is a museum piece,” says Foggin. Plateau Perspectives works with nomads to sustain livelihoods and conserve local wildlife. “Tibetan pastoralism will continue to create and recreate itself. There is a creativity in us that has allowed humans to survive in harsh habitats.”

Lifestyles become ancient, he reasons, by having adapted to changing environments. For millennia, the nomads have looked for their survival to their wildlife and it is likely that at least some of them will do so again.

Watching Global Warming From The Roof Of The World

Song Fuli and Zhou Lili, 18 November 2012

Sometimes described as the engine of the global climate system because of its role in climate and water systems, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in western China, with its fragile and sensitive ecosystem, is considered a “canary-in-the-mine” for global climate change.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also called the Tibetan Plateau, covers about 25% of China’s surface area and includes more than 35,000 glaciers. Three of Asia’s largest rivers, the Yangtze, the Yellow River and the Mekong, have their sources there. Altogether, the rivers originating from the plateau supply water to over one billion people.

But as a result of climate change, temperatures are increasing much faster on the plateau than anywhere else in the world. According to Li Lin, a researcher at the Meteorological Bureau of Qinghai Province, over the past 30 years the annual average temperature has shown a significant rise, increasing at a rate of 0.37 degrees Celsius per 10 years. In the same period of time, the average global temperature has gone up 0.13° Celsius per decade. This increase in temperature is particularly obvious in the winter.

The Last Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau

Sean Gallagher, 25 October 2012

For 5,000 years the nomads of the region have roamed these lands, freely moving their flocks of sheep and cattle with the changing seasons. But over the past decade these people have been moved, often against their will, from the grasslands and into newly constructed towns and villages across the plateau.
In 2000, China’s new “Western Development Strategy” was introduced by the central government, aimed at bringing improvements to the poverty-stricken west through infrastructural investment. As part of this strategy, it was deemed necessary to encourage the removal of the nomads of the highland grasslands in order to protect the important headwaters region.

“The basic premise of this policy is that a decade of respite from livestock grazing is necessary for degraded grassland to be restored to its natural state, and therefore domestic livestock (and herders) should be moved away,” according to Dr. Marc Foggin, in his paper “Depopulating the Tibetan Grasslands.”

“However this premise remains untested at such large scales, and most grassland systems have in fact evolved over time as grazed ecosystems, with either wild or domestic grazers. Now, tens of thousands of families have been asked to move off the grassland and to adopt new livelihoods in farming or to live in new towns. In Qinghai, for example, 35 resettlement communities have already been built and 51 more are under construction. In 2007 a total of 61,899 herdsmen from 13,305 households will be resettled,” Foggin wrote.

To date, it has been estimated that up to 100,000 “ecological migrants” have now been removed from nomadic communities on the grasslands.

GEF work meeting held in Altai prefecture, Xinjiang

6月28日,阿勒泰地委副书记朱天舒召集地区林业、水利、畜牧、国土、环保、阿山林管局以及阿尔泰山两河源自然保护区管理局等部门的领导和专家,在地区宾馆南楼会议室与中国GEF(全球环境基金)项目新疆阿尔泰子项目专家组进行了座谈。中国GEF项目新疆阿尔泰子项目专家组由国际专家Marc Foggin、国内专家于常青教授、本地专家曹定贵总工组成,UNDP(联合国开发计划署)项目协调官员于广志博士一同考察。

Launch of Special Journal Issue on ‘Wildlife and Pastoralism’

UNEP, 2012

Rangelands cover 69% of the world’s agricultural land and around 40% of all global land surfaces, providing habitats for domestic livestock, and a diversity of wild plants and animals. However, a general perception exists that there is unfavourable competition between wildlife and livestock production. This view has led to policies and programmes that increasingly segregate the two sectors, often resulting in political and economic conflict between pastoralists and others.

As global incomes rise, demand is accelerating for livestock products such as meat, dairy and fibres, leading to strong economic incentives to intensify livestock production in the rangelands. Livestock intensification is also promoted as a means to prevent destruction of natural habitat. However, recent research shows that intensification is increasingly degrading extensive pastures and rangelands, and can lead to loss of biodiversity with impacts on both wildlife management and pastoralism, in high income as well as low income countries. Intensive livestock production generates higher levels of green house gases and nutrient pollution compared to extensive pastoralism. Intensively produced meats have higher fat content, leading to greater concerns over human health in developed and developing countries.

Community Ecotourism on the Tibetan Plateau

Marc Foggin, 2012

Over the past several months, many of our team members have been engaged in advancing our
community ecotourism project, which aims to support communities’ economic development in
one of the largest nature reserves in the world. Simultaneously, local people are involved in the
conservation of the grassland ecosystems and of rare and endangered wildlife species.

But why have we chosen to be involved with ‘ecotourism’ in the first place? In short, following
the earthquake that devastated the Yushu area in April 2010, we initially assisted with disaster
relief including medical work and the provision of basic supplies. However after several months
we agreed with local colleagues, friends and government authorities on a longer-term response,
which includes two main elements: the development of rehabilitation services in Yushu Tibetan
Autonomous Prefecture, and livelihood recovery with creation of new opportunities, particularly
in the developing tourism sector.

Recently we asked our 9 year old son, Alistair, how he would describe community ecotourism.
As part of a school assignment, he wrote: “Community ecotourism is tourism which protects the
environment and helps the local people. Ecotourism is good for getting money to give it to the
locals, protecting the environment and saving the wildlife. It is also good for protecting the
endangered species such as: Wild yak, Snow leopard and Lynx. I think it would be fun to teach
the tourists how to ride horses at the horse races and show them the wildlife on the grasslands. It
would also be fun to teach the tourists how to herd yak with slingshots and to raft down rivers. It
would help the environment to burn trash and recycle what can be recycled.” We believe he has
captured the essence of what may be achieved by ecotourism, if it is done properly!

Toward this end, our project is now working at several levels simultaneously. At a grassroots
level we are assisting several communities to develop their experiential ‘tourism products’ and
their marketing plans. We also are supporting the development of rural financing mechanisms in
the form of herders’ cooperatives and community trust funds. With several partners at provincial
level, we equally are aiming to see the launch of a Qinghai Ecotourism Network before the end
of the year; and to assist in this we are currently planning a study tour to Nepal that is focused on
community-oriented tourism – in particular to promote a mindset of ‘tourism for development’
and ‘tourism for conservation’. Finally, at a policy level we also are directly contributing to a
new approach for conservation in China known as community co-management, in which local
communities are recognized as partners, not enemies, of conservation and regional development.
We believe that adopting such an integrated approach to community development – integrating
local livelihoods and economics with biodiversity conservation, local participation and equity –
is a significant, practical way in which we can serve our global neighbours and steward creation.

Researchers Conduct Survey of Wild Chinese Herbs on Rural Tibetan Plateau

Tyler Smith, 2012

Researchers recently completed a 6-year effort in which they documented more than 1,000 wild herbs in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve on the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai Province, China. The scientists identified 575 varieties of medicinal herbs—six of which were previously unknown to the area—and captured more than 100,000 photographs of local flora. The Sanjiangyuan region (translated as “Three Rivers’ Source”) comprises the headwaters of the Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong Rivers. The greater Tibetan plateau has been described as the “Third Pole” or the “Roof of the Earth” in terms of ecological importance.

The multi-year survey is part of a strategy of the Chinese government to protect and conserve the fragile region, which in recent years has been impacted negatively by climate change and excessive herding. The wild herb conservation project is one aspect of China’s Great Western Development Strategy, an initiative that took effect in 2005 to improve less-developed regions in rural western China. In 2011, China invested 1 billion yuan (approximately $160 million USD) to protect the environment of the Sanjiangyuan region, according to an article from China Daily.

As part of the development plan, “[The Chinese Academy of Sciences] will select … species with promising potential and significant research value, especially plants that are important in the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial fields and that could be put into industrial production,” the organization mentions on its website. “Together with the ongoing drive to standardize medicinal herbs in Chinese traditional medicine [and] comprehensively utilize Tibetan traditional medicine, … the academy will make efforts to find drugs that are highly effective against major diseases.”

NGOs work with govt to rebuild northwest China’s quake-hit town

Zhang Xiang, 31 May 2010

YUSHU, Qinghai, May 31 (Xinhua) — Queues quickly formed in front of a make-shift shelter at a hillside village as relief goods were being prepared for distribution.

People lined up for free cotton underwear, socks, solar-powered lights, and dishware — sometimes beds and tents were also available there.

The stand is run by Canada-based Plateau Perspective, one of a few foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Yushu, a remote and predominantly Tibetan region rocked by the devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake on April 14.

Director of Plateau Perspective Marc Foggin told Xinhua the group was able to mobilize a team of 20 foreign medical specialists and joined the rescue efforts the day after the earthquake hit on April 15. They worked side-by-side with thousands of soldiers, police, medical workers and volunteers to save lives.

Despite their presence in China for more than three decades, NGOs have not flourished until very recently. Their role became widely recognized by the public in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in southwest China’ s Sichuan Province that left over 80,000 people dead or missing.

Foggin said years of involvement in Yushu’s ecological and environmental programs gave the Canadian organization an edge in getting the government’s nod to join the rescue operations as soon as possible.

“We weren’t new to the scene, we were already known and trusted,” Foggin said. “We already had well-established relations with the prefecture government, prior to the earthquake.”

Now, as the focus shifts to rehabilitation, the organization continues to assist with the purchase and distribution of a range of relief supplies.

Foggin says they are ready to trial several water purification systems, ranging from individual household units through to systems that can provide for the needs of more than 10,000 people — the population of the hardest-hit town of Gyegu which was completely reduced to rubble after the quake.

In addition to foreign NGOs, a number of their local grassroots counterparts are also actively involved in the quake recovery work.

Qinghai Civil Charity Society President Duocaidan said his group invited senior lamas to give lectures to console relatives of Yushu’s quake victims, most of whom are devout Tibetan Buddhists.

Duocaidan said the lectures were more practical and effective than common psychological therapy that involved inducing the traumatized to break-down and cry in order to release stress.

Because Tibetan tradition requires relatives to bury their sorrow and silently mourn the deaths, a break from that tradition might disturb the reincarnation of the soul of the dead, said Duocaidan.

“The quake zone now has sufficient supply of goods and cash but still needs psychological counseling services,” he says.

Officials say there are many other examples to demonstrate the important role NGOs can play in disaster response.

“Of course, the army and the police play a key role in the rescue and recovery, but NGOs complement the efforts,” said Zhen Bingliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. “NGOs act swiftly in their response to disasters and they are flexible to operate.”

NGOs work with govt to rebuild northwest China’s quake-hit town

Xinhua News, May 2010

The stand is run by Canada-based Plateau Perspective, one of a few foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Yushu, a remote and predominantly Tibetan region rocked by the devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake on April 14.

Director of Plateau Perspective Marc Foggin told Xinhua the group was able to mobilize a team of 20 foreign medical specialists and joined the rescue efforts the day after the earthquake hit on April 15. They worked side-by-side with thousands of soldiers, police, medical workers and volunteers to save lives.

China’s Quake: Avoiding the Political Aftershocks

TIME Magazine, 9 April 2010

On the high plains of Qinghai province … a massive earthquake killed hundreds.

The provincial government asked Foggin, whose NGO has operated in Yushu for nearly a decade and opened 11 village clinics in the area, to send help from Xining as quickly as possible. His organization has organized a website for donations ( and is dispatching teams to the disaster zone. “Basic supplies are in need, accommodation is in need, and of course there’s the medical situation,” he says. On Thursday afternoon Plateau Perspectives sent five people, including two doctors, overland to Yushu from Xining. With luck, they will make it by morning.

Marc Foggin [is] chief representative of Plateau Perspectives, an NGO in Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining that focuses on sustainable development in China’s mountainous west.


科嘎哇畜牧专业合作社成立于 2010年4月1日,地处素有“长江之源、百川之祖、牦牛之地、一江九河十大滩”之称的玉树藏族自治州治多县境内,平均海拔4600米左右。治多县草地畜牧业的发展历史源远流长,古为原始牦牛产地之一。据有关记载,早至4千多年以前,活动在长江源头的人类就经营着简单的畜牧业,成为世界上古老的游牧民族之一。



Marc Foggin: Digging out

Mark MacKinnon, 2010

When a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Tibetan plateau last April, bringing many of the buildings in remote Yushu County crumbling down, the calls for help went out to the usual sources: the monks in the town’s main lamasery, the massive apparatus that is the Chinese government – and a tiny Canadian-Scottish charity.

The town was devastated, with almost 3,000 dead. Outside help was needed, but the government was nervous about foreigners running around the politically sensitive Tibetan plateau. Among the few outsiders known and trusted by local residents and authorities in Qinghai province was Montrealer Marc Foggin, 40, founder of Plateau Perspectives, a non-government organization that had been working in Yushu for more that a decade. The only problem was that Plateau Perspectives, headed by Mr. Foggin and his wife, Marion Torrance-Foggin, was a four-person organization focused on conservation.

Snow leopard’s survival depends on joint efforts of several countries

WWF Mongolia, October 2008

WWF Mongolia and WWF Russia held a meeting in Ulaanbaatar with colleagues from Tibet working on snow leopard’s conservation. Among big cats the snow leopard, or Irbis, is the only one who constantly lives in the highlands and personifies majestic, mysterious and harsh world of Central Asian Mountains.

In September 2008 the director of Tibetan “Plateau Perspectives” Marc Foggin with his colleagues visited Mongolia. On the workshop with WWF Mongolia and WWF Russia he told about the conservational work in Qinghai Province (China) focused on the conservation of the snow leopard, black-necked crane and Tibetan antelope. One of the methods of their work is involving local communities to conservation. For example, some communities already initiated the monthly monitoring of the snow leopard.

A Green Fervor Sweeps the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Science Magazine, August 2008

The pika eradication effort could have unintended consequences for other species, Foggin and Smith wrote in what is considered the definitive study in Animal Conservation in 1999. Pikas are a keystone species, providing many ecosystem functions to the Tibetan Plateau, they wrote. The animals are a major food source not just for wolves but for brown bears and most of the large predatory birds of the plateau, and many nesting bird species use pika burrows as shelters for breeding.

Marc Foggin [is] founding director of Plateau Perspectives, an organization in the provincial capital Xining that supports conservation and sustainable development. Foggin did research on mammals and birds in Qinghai as a grad student at Arizona State University in the 1990s.

Weary Tibetan people find supporting hand in ASU graduate student

Arizona State University (ASU) Press Release

John Yantis, 22 April 1998

An Arizona State University graduate student studying the Tibetan plateau in China is helping nomadic yak herders fight two years of savage winters. Biology student Marc Foggin went to the Qinghai Province of China to learn how best to sustain development and ecology on the grasslands of Tibet, one of the harshest environments in the world. His job is to help nomads, whose livelihood depends on yaks, find long-term solutions to poverty in an environment where the average temperature is below freezing. But thanks to record snowfall, Mother Nature has put the future of the plateau on hold. And while Foggin’s brain concentrates on the answers of tomorrow, his heart cannot forget what he sees today. “The family that sticks out most strongly in my mind is the family of seven people who lost all 34 of their yak and decided to sell their tent in order to buy five yak from their neighbors,” Foggin says through E-mail. “Now four of them have had to leave the family to work for other pastoralists (nomadic herders) that have not lost as many animals, and three of them live in an old tent that is only 3-by-3 meters in area.” The family’s story and other tales of suffering drove Foggin to organize a relief effort for the people of the countryside, an idea that will end with over 60 six-ton trucks of supplies that will be delivered this month to 18 townships. On the Tibetan plateau, it is the yak that gives life. In fact they are called “the ship of the plateau.” But the heaviest snowfall in the area’s history covered grasses eaten by animals resulting in their starvation and frostbitten herders, some of whom also suffer snow blindness.

The nomads, who live at an elevation of between 13,000 and 15,000 feet, live mainly in yak-hair tents and eat a ground barley called tsampa with yak butter and tea. They herd their livestock daily and move between winter and summer pastures with shorter stops in the spring and fall. They use yak dung for fuel and smoke it in their pipes. “They been living on sort of a knife’s edge for the last 30 years,” said Andrew Smith, an ASU biology professor and Foggin’s thesis advisor. Old grazing practices have changed for the nomads as grasslands have been degraded during this period making native animals, such as gazelle and antelope, almost non existent, he said. More than 12,000 herders in a huge, five county area are starving, Smith said. During an assessment trip, Foggin, 28, decided he had to serve the Tibetans. “The need was so obvious,” the Montreal resident said. “Some families had only two or three days worth of food left and their livestock had died. I could not ignore the people’s cry.” In one township, a village sprung up in over just a few years as families that had lost all of their animals moved next to a local monastery to beg from occasional pilgrims, he said. One family had been there seven years and still had no hope to make a living. Another family Foggin visited had sold its only tent to buy food. They are now living in a borrowed house nearby because the owners are temporarily in a neighboring county where the snow fall was less, and their livestock have a better chance of survival. In February, Foggin surveyed these conditions in an area called Yushu and sent his report, with the help of a charity, to the Hong Kong government. He requested funds to purchase supplies for the herders. In March, the Hong Kong government gave him and the charity $120,000. However, by this time, news began arriving about disastrous conditions in another area called Guolou. Knowing that four international relief organizations were already working in Yushu, Foggin asked the government to assist Guolou. After three weeks of deliberation, officials agreed to let Foggin use the money in Guolou, where it continues to snow. The money will be used to provide food and medical supplies in two counties beginning about April 25. His efforts make Smith proud. “Here’s a graduate student on the spot and he rose to the occasion and he’s done this incredible thing all by himself,” he said. For Foggin, it was an easy choice. “There are no easy answers,” he said. “But I know I should be here and I’m glad to help where and in ways I can.”