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Wolves to be reintroduced to control blue sheep
By Ma Lie (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-13 05:24

XI'AN: Wolves could be reintroduced at a nature reserve in Shaanxi Province to help cull the area's growing number of wild blue sheep, a protected species.

The move has been suggested because the increasing number of sheep at Helanshan Mountain Natural Reserve threatens both the animals themselves and the natural environment.

"The ecological equilibrium of the area has been seriously affected by a sharp increase in the sheep's population, which has resulted in the degeneration of pasture land in the zone," Cui Duoying, an animal expert at Huadong Normal University, warned after conducting an investigation.

Cui and his group, which carried out the investigation with the protection zone's administration bureau, found the population of blue sheep had increased from 1,500 to more than 12,000.

He said that, ideally, there should be less than 17.6 sheep per square kilometre. It is estimated that the animal's population will surpass that limit within five years.

"There is a danger that the area's vegetation will be seriously destroyed," Cui told China Daily.

The blue sheep, which has second-class protection in China, is an endangered wild animal mainly living in the Helan Mountain area. This is located on the border of the Ningxia Hui and the Inner Mongolia autonomous regions.

Before 1983, the blue sheep was wantonly hunted, causing the animal's population to fall sharply to the "endangered" level.

Central and local governments started protecting the animal in 1988. Helan Mountain Natural Reserve was established to protect 176 wild animals living in the area, according to Li Zhigang, deputy director of the reserve's administration bureau.

By the end of 2005, the blue sheep population has reached more than 12 per square kilometre, partly because of the animal's ability to reproduce quickly, the deputy director said.

"We urgently need to protect and manage the blue sheep and our natural resources. We think we need to introduce wolves to help control the sheep's population," Cui said.

The sharp increase in the sheep's numbers is also a result of the fact that they have almost no natural enemies, the expert added.

Wolves and other large carnivores used to live in the Helan Mountain area, but disappeared decades ago because of hunting and development, said the deputy director.

But some local officials and experts worry that introducing wolves may cause the number of sheep to decrease sharply and increase the number of wolves.

"I think wolves can be controlled. We will be able to protect tourists and local residents in the area from them," the deputy director of the reserve said.

The local government is currently drawing up a plan, Li said.

(China Daily 02/13/2006 page3)

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