systems. Yet analysis of these practices usually reveals that they are quite rational. Often, long-term sustainability is sacrificed for short-term survival. Rather than dismiss such behavior as irrational, rangeland scientists should concentrate on understanding the causes that drive people to sacrifice the sustainability of their environment for short-term gain and on finding solutions that will help them satisfy both short-and long-term needs.


The study of grasslands in China as elsewhere must take account of wild as well as domesticated animals and of the importance of preserving the grasslands not only as an economic resource, but also as a natural reserve. The fate of wildlife on the grasslands of China gives cause for concern. There has been in recent years a considerable reduction in the number, variety, and range of wild animals, especially large ungulates, in the area covered by this study. In 1932, the central Asian explorer Roy Chapman Andrews described the huge herds of Mongolian gazelles on the eastern steppe. ''The entire horizon appeared to be a moving line of yellow bodies and curving necks,'' wrote Andrews. "Thousands passed in front of us." Sixty years later, the range of this gazelle has decreased by more than two-thirds. The saiga antelope and Przewalski's horse are extinct in China, while the wild Bactrian camel has been reduced to perhaps 500 individuals, all in the most remote desert tracts. The goitered gazelle, wild ass, wild yak, and Tibetan antelope have declined to a fraction of their former numbers.

The reduction in the number of ungulates in China, as well as such predators as wolf and snow leopard, has been the result of several factors. Unrestricted hunting, to eliminate a threat to livestock, reduce competition for forage, or provide meat, hides and other products for subsistence or commercial use, has taken a heavy toll. The decline of wild animals was particularly sharp during the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960), when agricultural production dropped and many animals were slaughtered for food, and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when conservation directives were generally ignored.

Despite these problems, China's rangelands continue to support a variety of wild ungulates: the goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa ), Przewalski's gazelle (Procapra przewalski), Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata), Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni), wild ass (Equus hemionus), wild yak (Bos grunniens ), argali sheep (Ovis ammon), blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Asiatic ibex (Capra ibex), white-lipped deer (Cervus albirostris), red deer (Cervus elaphus), and wild Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus). In northwestern Tibet and southwestern Qinghai, both remote and almost uninhabited areas, the Tibetan antelope, wild ass, and other unique upland fauna survive in moderate abundance. More than 200,000 Mongolian gazelles migrate between the eastern steppes of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia.

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