Pema Wanggyal (R) and Losang Tashi (L), two rangers of Lake Manasarova in Tibet, during their patrol around the lake, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Ma Chi/chinadaily.com.cn)
Pema Wanggyal used to be an ordinary herdsman living in Shongpa, a small village at the side of Lake Manasarova. Three years ago, he was assigned a new job - a ranger of the "holy lake". Pema's job involves protecting wildlife and natural environment around the lake from being harmed.
In summer, Pema patrols the lake on motorcycle every two or three days, and every patrol mission takes three to four hours. During the 30-kilometer journey, he stops now and then to observe through a binocular if there are dead animals or grasslands being damaged. He also collects trash discarded by tourists and pilgrims.
The 30-year-old is one of the 18 rangers at the Jiwu Protection Station at the Lake Manasarova Wetland Preserve. To protect the fragile eco-system of the wetland, six such protection stations have been installed in the preserve.
Sitting at Purang county in Ngari prefecture of Tibet, the Lake Manasarova is 4,500 meters above the sea level and the melted snow water from the Gangdise Mountains overlooking the lake is the source of Yarlung Zangbo River and the Ganges River.
The wetland is also a key "climate regulator" in the plateau area and is home to more than 400 wild creatures, including iconic species such as white-neck crane and Tibetan wild donkey, according to Tsewang Tengyal, deputy head of the Purang forestry bureau.
Enshrined as "holy lake and sacred mountain" along with the Mount Kailash (or Gang Rinpoche, the highest of peak of the Gangdise Mountains), the Lake Manasarova attracts a large number of pilgrims as well as tourists from home and abroad every year, especially in summer.
"I feel a big responsibility on my shoulder as the Lake Manasarova represents not only the image of Shongpa village, but also that of Tibet and China," said Pema.
"What I am doing is preserving the beautiful environment of the 'holy lake' for the future generations," he said.
However, visitors bring not only incomes for local villagers but also threats to Lake Manasarova's natural environment.
"Some visitors throw away trash such as old clothes and bottles, and fishing and poaching of birds also happens sometimes," said Guru Tesring, a villager of Shongpa.
Pema Wanggyal notes down his observation during a patrol trip around the Lake Manasarova on May 10, 2018. (Photo by Ma Chi/chinadaily.com.cn)
The eco-system around the lake is also under threat from over-grazing.
"The wetland is the habitat for wildlife and is also closely linked with the life of human beings. It is affected by human activities such as grazing," said Tsewang Tengyal.
The eco-system of the pasture in the wetland worsened as a result of over-grazing, he said.
To protect the eco-system and biodiversity of the wetland, in 2015, the Lake Manasarova Wetland was listed as a pilot area for an eco-compensation mechanism funded by the Ministry of Finance.
Under the pilot program, impoverished local herdsmen are employed by Purang forest bureau as rangers to patrol the wetland, which has put the wetland under protection and also offered job opportunities to impoverished families. Pema and other rangers receive a monthly salary of around 2,000 yuan ($316).
In addition to the hiring of rangers, subsidies are provided to herdsmen to compensate their economic losses incurred from limitations on grazing.
In 2017, a total of 25 million yuan was used to finance the wetland eco-compensation program in Tibet.
Black-beaded gulls rest at Lake Manasarova on May 10, 2018. (Photo by Ma Chi/chinadaily.com.cn)
The efforts have paid off as residents have more impetus to protect the natural environment in the wetland.
"We no longer litter the pasture with garbage when grazing livestock and drive away wild animals," said Ukin, a villager in Shongpa. "More and more water birds rest at the lake," he said.
"As every piece of grass and tree is protected, the natural environment in the wetland area has improved, drawing an increasing number of visitors and bringing more incomes to villagers," said Pema Gyalpo, former head of the Party branch of Shongpa.
In July 2017, Lake Manasarova Wetland was upgraded to a national-level wetland preserve, and more efforts are expected to maintain the pristine environment of the "holy lake".
"We will enhance the self-sustaining ability of the preserve and build a scientific and efficient management system with the view to building the Lake Manasarova Wetland into a beautiful international wetland park," said Tsewang Tengyal.