Monday, July 31, 2006

Malcolm & Tibetan Antelopes - Part 1

In a two part article, Malcolm Au tells his story of how a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Arijin Mountains in Xinjiang from 19 June to 7 July 2006 shooting close-up pictures of Tibetan antelopes has turned out to be...

The purpose of my trip was to find pregnant Tibetan Antelopes and hopefully have a chance to take a close photo shot of them.

These poor animals are listed together with the ‘Giant Pandas’ as two of the top endangered animals found in China. The other non-listed top endangered animal in China is the “capable government official with integrity”. The Tibetan Antelopes are famous and endangered because of ladies around the world are fond of the shawls made from their fur. The shawls are called Shahtoosh and they are so fine and so soft that one can put a large shawl through the center of a wedding band.

Xin Jiang is big, it occupies one sixth of China’s land area. I had no idea how big the province is and how tough the roads and weather conditions are until I got on this trip. It took us five days to drive from Urumuqi, the biggest city in Xin Jiang, to the Antelope breeding ground in the Arijin Mountains.

The trip was not a comfortable ride; it took four Land Rovers, one Land Cruiser and a large supply truck to get us there, by crossing rivers and 7,000m mountains. The Arijin Mountains reserve that we went to is huge – 45,000 sq KM – and is normally not open to just anybody. The exploration team that I went with has sponsored Tibetan Antelope research at the reserve for ten years, so I got this rare chance to sneak in with the rest of the team.

The trip was very good for me. The hardship I encountered made me feel appreciative of what I already have. Living in a single tent at our base camp at 4,700m above sea levels for eight days is not easy. To put a perspective on the altitude, lots of people would have high altitude sickness at Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, which is at 3,600m above sea level. The air is very thin at base camp, containing about half the amount of oxygen as normal air at sea level. The wind was blowing hard and it snowed every night. There were twenty people in our group and a few of us had to be put in compression chambers to alleviate them of the high altitude sickness otherwise they could have turned into ‘vegetables’. I was lucky that I did not feel much of the high altitude effect. They say older people are more adaptable to this kind of conditions and I am well qualified. The condition was so harsh that one did not have the spare energy or mood to count the days one went without a shower. The biggest decision I had to make was, while in the middle of the night, whether I should leave the warmth of the sleeping bag and the tent, put on all my weather gears, to brave the wind and snow and walk fifty steps from the tent to answer the call of nature. The food and drinks were also no consolation. We drank cooked muddy water and ate a lot of prepared food. Fortunately our group brought two chefs so we did not need to do the cooking and dish washing.

For Part 2 of this article, please click here. For a full set of photos accompanying this article, please click here.


Blogger Ho Kit May 何潔美 said...

Natiional Geographic should post your journal and pictures there. Looking forward to part II of the journal.
I would have loved to pat the calf.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all people have the chance to experience such an opportunity, such as braving cold winds, live in a tent, and see exotic animals such as an antelope. I'm sure my Silk Road tour will be nothing compared to this. Thank you for sharing with us!

12:10 PM  

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