In 2001, the State Environment Protection Administration of China (SEPA) signed the document which officially established the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve in China’s north-western province, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region.
The new nature reserve is located in the south-east of Xinjiang Province, east of the Tarim river basin. The dried-up lake bed of Lop Nur is in the centre of the region and it is surrounded by the Gashun Gobi desert to the north, east and west and by the Aqike valley and the Kum Tagh sand dunes to the south. The Kuruk Tagh mountains, an extension of the Tien Shan mountain range, dissect the area north of Lop Nur.
The valleys of these mountains provide shelter for the wild camel. To the east runs a corridor of sand dunes stretching 80 km from north to south. This forms a natural barrier to the east for the wild camel. This inhospitable waterless habitat was China’s former nuclear test site. The Nature reserve has been established specifically to protect the wild camel and its fragile habitat The protection here of the wild camel means it acts as an ‘umbrella species’ protecting many other endangered species which are found in the northern and southern fringes of the Nature Reserve. Other objectives are:
The area is deep within the Asian continent and far from moisture laden winds. Rainfall may occur only once every two or three years and averages less than 100mm annually. The winters are very cold and the summers short and hot. The climate is extreme, temperatures rise to plus 55 degrees Celsius in summer and fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter.
It is a region of unique landscapes with special fauna and flora. It is possible to find the wild camel (Camelus ferus), Gobi bear (Ursus arctos), wild Argali sheep (Ovis ammon), the wild Ass (Equus hemionus) and the Black-tailed gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa). All these species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Red Book of Mongolia, 1987.
The desert and its fauna do not recognise international borders and successful biodiversity management will involve the management staff of the protected areas in both China and Mongolia.
In addition to the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve there are other protected areas which have borders contiguous with the Reserve. They are the Arjin Shan Reserve (15,000 square kilometres) the Annanba Protected Area (3,960 square kilometres) and the Wanyaodong (333 square kilometres).
There are legal government mining operations in the northern edge of the Lop Nur Wild Camel Nature Reserve and with access roads it is easy for off-road vehicles to enter these once remote desert areas. In the Gashun Gobi desert illegal miners have been known to lay mines at water holes to blow up wild camels for food.
Fresh water is available in the very southern edge of the Gashun Gobi desert, south of the Kum Tagh sand mountains, where it meets the Arjin mountains. Here snowmelt provides fresh water for wildlife during certain seasons. Skeletons of young wild camels found in the Gashun Gobi desert during recent scientific expeditions suggest that many of these young camels under two years of age are unsuccessful at adapting to drinking the desert salt water which has a higher salt content than sea-water and is an essential requirement for survival in the harsh ecosystem of the Gashun Gobi desert.
Ancient fossils show that the Great Gobi Desert was once part of a large inland sea basin.
The Gobi Desert in both China and Mongolia is a vulnerable and extremely fragile ecosystem. Vegetation is sparse and most species which live within the ecosystem are already at the extreme range of their habitat and are often endangered themselves. Human pressure on a delicately balanced ecosystem does not have to be significant to have a catastrophic effect on the entire biodiversity.