Qinghai Hoh Xil
Qinghai Hoh Xil, located in the northeastern extremity of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year-round. The site’s geographical and climatic conditions have nurtured a unique biodiversity. More than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals are endemic to the plateau. The property secures the complete migratory route of the Tibetan antelope, one of the endangered large mammals that are endemic to the plateau. © UNESCO
2020 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Exceptional natural beauty
Exceptional level of endemism and significant habitat for in situ conservation
It is an example of an ongoing biological and ecological evolution process in a temperate arid zone.
Due to the pattern of two deserts flanking one mountain, the location deep in Asia’s hinterland and the arid continental climate, which is unique among the world’s mountain ecosystems, the landforms, ecosystems, habitats and landscapes have not undergone any major changes since the Pliocene epoch (5 Ma).
In recent years, Hoh Xil reserve has developed its remote CCTV monitoring system at selected sessions of the highway to monitor the wildlife movement. During migration season, the guards of the Hoh Xil National Nature reserve take patrols along selected sessions of the highway according to historical records of antelope movement and also use CCTV monitoring system to get real-time observation along highway. If there is antelope along the highway, reserve staff at protection stations near these spots will go there to ensure the pass of the animals.
The traffic on the highway is growing due to the major development occurring in the Tibet province. At the same time, the populations of antelopes and other animals are thought to be growing in the property due to better conservation measures. This could potentially create conflict in future if relevant management responses are not put in place.
During the process of inscription, IUCN sought information from the State Party about the status and future plans for the road. It was confirmed that there is no committed plan for road upgrading at the present time. It would be essential that, should the road be upgraded (including the options to reduce its impact on migration, such as underpass or overpass corridors), such a project should be subject to a very thorough and careful assessment, involving leading expertise. In the meantime, two clearly essential requirements are to maintain the current and apparently effective management of the road, and to continuously monitor its effectiveness. It is also important to improve the level of monitoring of the impacts of the road on wildlife, including tracking details of roadkill, in order to also consider if impacts on species other than the Tibetan antelope require enhanced protection measures (IUCN, 2017).
Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve. Sheep and cattle compete with wildlife for food and heavy grazing can cause degradation of the grassland ecosystem. The government has an effective policy for reducing animal husbandry, offering incentives and compensation to the relevant households to cease grazing the land. The IUCN mission understood that grazing intensity has fallen substantially in the last years, and thus it is recommended that this present policy is continued. However, it is important to note, as discussed above, that a distinction should be made regarding the support for long-standing traditional grazing at intensities that can be supported by the natural ecosystem, in order to respect and protect legitimate traditional use and the rights associated with it (IUCN, 2017).
With climate warming and increased precipitation in the Tibetan Plateau (TP), most lakes in the Hoh Xil region have expanded significantly and some large lakes had expanded by hundreds of square kilometres since 2000. Lake Zonag, Lake Kusai, Lake Hedin Noel and Lake Yanhu were independent endorheic lakes in the Hoh Xil region on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. As noted above, in September 2011, Lake Zonag burst after the water level had increased for many years. Floods flowed through Lake Kusai and Lake Hedin Noel into Lake Yanhu. The area of Lake Zonag has shrunk by 120 km2 and the margins of receded lake quickly evolved into the source of dust and heavy sandstorms which occurred frequently in the following winters. About 300 km2 of grassland have been completely covered by dust, threatening the survival of Tibetan antelopes and other wild animals in this region, although there was no quantitative measurement on its impact on animal mortality so far. One of the most important calving sites, Zhuonai (Zonag) Lake, burst in 2011, resulting in deep cutting riverbanks along migration routes, preventing animal access to their traditional calving ground (IUCN Consultation, 2020) and forcing calving in alternative sites downstream (Liu et al, 2016). To the east, Lake Yanhu received the floods from Lake Zonag and then expanded from 48.1 km2 to 210.5 km2 over the course of several years. With the excessive water running into the Yanhu Lake, it is expected to spillover in only a couple of years. With the very high salinity of Yanhu, a overspill will significantly affect forage quality for the antelope and other ungulates across a large area (Pei et al., 2019; IUCN Consultation, 2020). The hazards of possible outburst of Lake Yanhu had also posed a serious threat to the safety of adjacent Qinghai-Tibet Railway/Highway. In 2019, engineers have dug a channel to drain the lake to prevent the possible outburst, and calls for a proposed dam to prevent further desertification have been advocated (Xinhua, 2019).
Practical management responses are difficult to put in place in relation to these trends, as the situation requires first to be understood, and the underlying knowledge and science base is still rapidly evolving. At the present time, it is firstly essential to put in place a strengthened and coordinated programme of monitoring of the effects of climate change. It will be important for management authority to conduct vulnerable assessment for wildlife habitat and distribution , as well as potential shift of vegatation patterns. It is important to understand how wild animals react to the habitat shift and data collection on habitat for flagship species should cover more than calving areas. Considering the large scale of the property, there is possibility for wild animals to shift to new habitat if the traditional ones are impacted by climate. To secure the spaces for potential shift is important to be addressed in renewed management plan. Given increasing capacity in Qinghai for conservation and the government's high-level commitment for ecological civilization, there is a significant opportunity to provide information about change, and lessons regarding response, that would be of international interest (IUCN, 2017).
Power supply lines are a potential threat to birds. The authorities in charge of the national grid have taken measures to assess threats and provide measures to discourage bird strikes, but there is a need for both monitoring and reporting on their effectiveness. It is also important to note that some bird species may settle in the property as the environment evolves, requiring different measures to be considered (IUCN, 2017).
China Daily. (2020). First national park will be officially established this year. [online] 9 January, China Daily. Available at: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202001/09/WS5e169733a310cf3… [Accessed 26 November 2020].
Chinese Academy of Sciences. (2020). Chinese Scientists Collect First Data on Lake Depth in Hoh Xil. [online] 1 April, CAS. Available at: http://english.cas.cn/newsroom/cas_media/202004/t20200401_2… (Accessed 12 August 2020).
IUCN Consultation. (2020). IUCN Confidential Consultation- Qinghai Hoh Xil, China.
IUCN. (2017). World Heritage Nomination – IUCN Technical Evaluation, Qinghai Hoh Xil (China). In: IUCN World Heritage Evaluations 2017, IUCN Evaluations of nominations of natural and mixed properties to the World Heritage List. WHC/17/41.COM/INF.8B2. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. [Online] Available at:
http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-inf8B2-en.pdf (Accessed on 16 July 2019).
Liu, B., Li, L., Feng, Q., Xie, H., Liang, T., Hou, F., & Ren, J. (2016). Outburst flooding of the moraine-dammed Zhuonai Lake on Tibetan plateau: causes and impacts. IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters, 13(4), 570-574.
Pei, J., Wang, L., Xu, W., Kurz, D. J., Geng, J., Fang, H., ... & Niu, Z. (2019). Recovered Tibetan antelope at risk again. Science, 366(6462), 194-194.
State Party of China. (2016). Nomination of Qinghai Hoh Xil as a World Heritage Site. [Online] Beijing, China: The ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1540/documents/ (Accessed on 16 July 2019).
World Heritage Committee. (2017). 41 COM 8B.4: Qinghai Hoh Xil (China). In: Report of decisions of the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee (Krakow, Poland, 2017). [online] Paris, France: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, pp.182-185. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6876 [Accessed 12 August 2020].
Xinhua. (2019). Dam proposed to stop desertification in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. [online] 11 February, Xinhua. Available at: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-02/11/c_137812770.htm…. (Accessed 12 August 2020).
Xu, W., Huang, Q., Stabach, J., Buho, H., & Leimgruber, P. (2019). Railway underpass location affects migration distance in Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii). PloS one, 14(2), e0211798.