6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Tim F. Martin
- Published on Amazon.com
_Across the Tibetan Plateau_ by Robert L. Fleming Jr., Dorje Tsering, and Liu Wulin is a gorgeous coffee-table book containing excellent photographs, wonderful satellite maps of Tibet, and excellent information on the fauna, flora, climate, and geology of the region.
The introductory chapter is very brief, the authors basically making the point that Tibet is often portrayed as a "relentlessly cold plateau of no trees," a land of little other than "windblown yaks and picturesque nomads." They write that it is so much more, a land that includes ecological zones from arctic to subtropic.
Chapter one is titled "ferns & firs: the wet southeast." This land is often quite isolated and boasts a subtropical climate and at higher elevations, cold-temperate and mountain-tundra zones. Its chief native human inhabitants being the Monba or Loba people (who cultivate barley and hunt and gather forest products with the use of hunting dogs), the area is botanically diverse, its flora includes often huge cinnamon trees (reaching upwards of 60 feet in height) and over 200 species of rhododendron. Its fauna includes cobras, the red ghoral (a small "goat-antelope"), the giant flying squirrel, the takin ("its face a peculiar profile reminiscent of its closest relative, the musk ox"), and several species of pheasant.
The second chapter looks at the rain-shadow deserts of south central Tibet, which on satellite maps appear as "light tan terrain" to the north of the "white-mantled Great Himalayan Range." This land, the "historical heart" of Tibet, includes the traditional birthplace of the Tibetan people (according to legend the result of a union between an ogress and a monkey), the capital Lhasa, impressive avifauna (the Tibetan snow cock, golden eagles, and the Himalayan griffon), and the thankfully increasing blue sheep, the quintessential herbivore of the mountainous highlands of central Asia.
Chapter three focuses on the "far west," a land that while on maps appears to be dominated by twin lakes of Manasarowar and Rakshas Tal, is still a rain-shadow desert. In this part of Tibet one finds Mount Kailash, the world's most sacred peak, the bar-headed goose (a small but distinctive goose that nests on the shores of highland lakes throughout Central Asia, it has a physiology such that it can migrate even over the Himalayas), the kiang (or Tibetan wild ass, once quite common), and great herds of domestic yak, vital to the lives of highland pastoralists.
Chapter four, "wild yaks & turquoise lakes," looked at the north of Tibet, a land of vast, open vistas and many lakes, some freshwater, some alkaline (nearly five hundred lakes of at least one square kilometer in size exist here). Much of the area is technically tundra with permafrost, resulting in widespread boggy wetlands in the summer months (attracting nesting migratory shorebirds). This region is the last stronghold of the wild yak and the highly endangered Tibetan antelope, overhunted to produce shahtoosh, "the world's most expensive hair," woven into "shawls so fine that they can be pulled through a finger-size ring." Other notable animals include brown-headed gulls (which nest in the hundreds on the edges of lakes), the black-necked crane (once thought one of the rarest crane species, now known to number over 10,000), grizzly bears, and wolves (sightings of which are almost always of single animals or pairs, never packs).
Chapter five examined eastern Tibet, a land of "rumpled" terrain dissected by many river valleys. There was excellent information and many fine pictures of the area's terrace farming, white-lipped deer, partridges, many varieties of conifer, and the unfortunate indiscriminate logging plaguing the region.
The sixth chapter looked at river valleys in Tibet, major "biological highways." Five major Asian rivers rise in the region. This chapter included much discussion of conservation, climate, and many Tibetan bird species (such as the ruddy shelduck, "one of the most characteristic birds of Tibet" and the demoiselle crane, a "small, elegant crane").
Chapter seven looked the topography and seasons of Tibet. In this section there is much discussion of the geology that produced Tibet and the overall climate of the region, particularly as it affects Tibet's flora, fauna, and people. One learns for instance that winter can mean "quite different things in various parts of the land;" some areas, such as in the southeast, may see huge snowfalls while other areas have clear cold winters and in fact if larger than normal snow storms occur can see widespread starvation of livestock and wildlife (one such storm in 1998 led to the death of thousands of domestic animals and extreme hardship for those that depended upon them). There are also areas of immense beauty; for instance much of the sacred Chimpuk Valley is "smothered in rosebushes."
The final chapter looked at conservation. The situation seems a hopeful one; in fifteen years Tibet went from less than 1% of its animals and lands protected to by the end of 2003 over 40% of its land area under some form of protection. Though animals in Tibet have suffered in the 19th and 20th centuries from poaching there is a long tradition for the respect of living things. Even today there are many "holy hot spots" where even poachers avoid. The blue-eared pheasant for instance, now restricted entirely to southeastern Tibet, has been heavily hunted for food; in one valley however, they are common and visible, not shy, thanks to a centuries-old tradition of protection. The Changtang Nature Reserve in northern Tibet, created in 1995 (the third largest protected area on the planet after Greenland and Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter, covering some 115,000 square miles) has been of immense help in preserving the wild yak (which has tripled its numbers) and the Tibetan antelope (the number of poached antelope falling from 5,000 in 1995 to 500 in 2002). There is even a large wetland preserve right on the edge of downtown Lhasa. The authors sound a very hopeful note, showing the great strides in government policies, policing, and the training of the average person in presevering Tibet's diverse fauna and flora.