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July 12, 2010

HSI Responds on Tibetan Plateau

Humane Society International

  • A Tibetan mastiff. Knighterrant/iStockphoto

by Peter Li

Each year, China is impacted by a variety of natural disasters. While everyone remembers the devastating destruction of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, another quake of magnitude 7.1 hit the Tibetan region of China’s Qinghai Province on April 14, 2010. This disaster killed at least 2,200 people and injured more.

Yushu, the epicenter, 4,000 meters above sea level, is home to ethnic Tibetans. Unique to this region are hundreds of thousands of Tibetan mastiffs raised as pets and watch dogs. When the April quake hit the area, many of these animals lost their families, homes and ready access to food and water.

Animal victims in need

China’s official rescue and relief efforts, though massive and immediate, were not extended to nonhuman victims. In the affected areas, homeless, injured and hungry Tibetan mastiffs and other household pets were victimized for a second time. Like the pets caught in the Sichuan earthquake, many Tibetan mastiffs refused to leave the ruins under which their families were buried. Government rescue workers were touched by the sight of these devoted dogs, many of them emaciated or wounded, wandering the streets in search of their people.

HSI and partners respond

A local organization, Xi’an’s Hong Shilu Animal Protection Group, led by its highly competent director, Jiang Hong, quickly coordinated an emergency team to address this situation. In response to Ms. Jiang’s appeals, Humane Society International (HSI), together with many other groups and individuals, contributed to the effort.

Thanks to donations from HSI, Animals Asia Foundation, Animal Guardians and caring individuals from Shanghai and across the country, three truckloads of dog food and other supplies were dispatched to Yushu. The team reached 19 villages in the worst-hit area, distributing dog food to 770 households and monasteries to benefit some 3,210 Tibetan mastiffs and other rescued dogs.

These joint efforts also won the support of the local government, and a temporary government shelter was established for accommodating homeless dogs. Ms. Jiang’s team helped the shelter rescue 45 starving dogs from the streets and backyards of collapsed houses.

A positive precedent

Humane Society International is proud to have been part of this initiative. While we were disappointed that animals were ignored in the official response to the earthquake, we believe that our local partner’s work sent a message to the Chinese government that nonhuman victims in natural disasters deserve consideration in disaster planning and relief efforts. Unlike some local governments after the Sichuan earthquake, authorities at Yushu were cooperative and provided assistance to the animal relief team composed mostly of volunteers from other parts of the country.

Humane Society International congratulates Ms. Jiang Hong, her team and all the volunteers who ventured onto the Qinghai Plateau. Through their actions, they undoubtedly planted seeds of compassion for animals in future disaster relief work in China.

Peter Li is HSI's China Specialist.