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Nuclear test site reserved for wild camels after four-year campaign.

The State Environment Protection Administration of China has signed a document which officially establishes 107,500 square kilometres of land formerly used for nuclear testing in the Xinjiang Province, as a nature sanctuary.

The Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary has been set up in this inhospitable, waterless wasteland almost the size of Poland, to protect the wild Bactrian camel.

This remarkable, two-humped animal has not only survived countless atmospheric and underground nuclear tests, but has also adapted to drinking a salty slush unpalatable to any other mammal, including the domestic Bactrian camel.

The formation of the sanctuary is the culmination of several years of tireless campaigning by the UK-based Wild Camel Protection Foundation and its founder, conservationist John Hare, who first encountered wild Bactrian camels on an expedition to the Mongolian Gobi Desert back in 1993. He started discussions with the Chinese Government about establishing a sanctuary for the camels on a visit to China in 1995, and then initiated a project with support from the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Global Environmental Facility.

"It's very satisfying that after four years of expeditions and negotiations the sanctuary is finally established," said Hare.

But even though nuclear tests have been stopped in the region, the wild camel faces new threats, "such as highly-toxic illegal mining and the callous hunting for sport of a species which is now more endangered than the giant panda".

Work to build checkpoints in the reserve has already started and its anticipated that the initial start-up phase of the sanctuary should be complete by the end of this year. Hare is currently in the Gashun Gobi on an expedition sponsored jointly by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the National Geographic Society in Washington, and is undertaking a further survey of wild camels.

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation has so far raised 150,000[pounds sterling]. If you would like more information, you can contact John Hare at: The Wild Camel Protection Foundation, School Farm, Benenden, Kent TN17 4EU. Tel: 01580 241132.

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Author:McWilliam, Fiona
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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