Aug. 31, 2016 -- Dojeben, a Tibetan herder, has a new job as an environmental enforcer.
Hired by the government two months ago, he patrols the Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, which will become China's first national park by 2020.
The park will hire 10,000 wardens to patrol over 120,000 square kilometers, an area bigger than the U.S. state of New York.
Sanjiangyuan -- literally "three river country" -- is home to the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang (Mekong) rivers. It was established as a nature reserve in 2005. About 100,000 herders left the grassland completely around that time and another 700,000 reduced their numbers of cattle to help restore the grassland.
Since then, ecological degradation has been reduced and water resources improved, but the environment has not recovered to the level of the 1950s, said park manager Li Xiaonan.
Dojeben is paid 1,800 yuan (about 270 U.S. dollars) a month for regular patrols, looking out for poachers, preventing fires and checking on park facilities.
"Herders and farmers are the central forces of environmental protection at Sanjiangyuan. The work boosts their incomes and gives them enough incentive to protect the environment," said Peng Chen, director of environmental protection at the park. "Since April, we have hired 7,500 wardens."
"We have 200 wardens in my township. Now we have 50 motorcycles, 10 cars and 60 horses. Most were bought in the last two months," said Dojeben.
Source of the Yellow River, the Gyaring Hu Lake area has never been short of poachers. "Poachers come for the fish and we need to stop them. We also need to help the wild ass and gazelle trapped by fences," said Manga, head of the patrol team at Gyaring Hu.
Manga and his team also help herders protect their cattle from predators. A ban on hunting has led to a rise in numbers of wolves and bears. In 2015, an average of five cattle were lost by each herder in Nyando Township. One lost 23 cows last year, according to Tsetentso, head of the Lancangjiang park management committee.
In May, Shanshui Nature Protection Center, a Beijing-based organization, joined the local government in setting up a fund to reimburse herders for lost cattle.
"More private capital will be welcomed to various protection programs at Sanjiangyuan," said Peng Chen. In return, companies will be allowed to develop sustainable, organic businesses including farming, animal husbandry and tourism. Such businesses will create employment and help the remaining 14,000 people in the county who live under the poverty line out of their plight.
"Sanjiangyuan aspires to be a model of effective environmental protection and harmony between nature and humanity," said Li Xiaonan. "Our policies will be dedicated to that purpose, as we feel our way toward that end."