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Life changing for people of Mazongshan

Updated: 2013-01-11 16:48
By chinadaily.com.cn

Located in the far north corner of Gansu province, Mazongshan is the least populated county in China. It covers an area of more than 38,000 square kilometers, which is almost as big as southern China's Jiangsu province, but has a population of just over 1,000.

Mazongshan, which translates in English to "Horse Mane Mountain", is in a unique place on the Gobi with countless small, black hills scattered on the vast, dry land, which is covered with black stones that shine under the sun. Traveling on the only road that leads to the town, the cascading hills resemble horses' manes.

Hours on the bumpy road cutting through the lifeless Gobi make some people wonder how locals cope with the harsh living conditions. A map of the town is unnecessary, as it only has two streets with a statue of an ibex standing at the intersection.

The majority of locals are from the Mongolian ethnic group. Unlike those who enjoy rich grassland in neighboring Inner Mongolia autonomous region, herdsmen from Mazongshan have adapted to the lifestyle of grazing camels and mountain goats. The Gobi might look lifeless to outsiders, but the locals know how to find water as well as mobile phone signals. They also know exactly where the camels are without using any tracking devices.

Bariba, 61, has been a herdsman in Mazongshan since 1963. He can greet by name anyone he meets on the street.

But with coal and gold mines being discovered in the area, the locals' life has started to change. For one, the mines brought pollution, Bariba said.

"The opencast coal mine cut the earth wide open and destroyed the grassland forever," Bariba said. "I feel I'm bleeding every time I see the mine."

But the mines also bring job opportunities. Many herdsmen have traded their livestock for trucks and have transformed from camel riders to well-paid truck drivers who transport ore out of the Gobi.

"Besides the miners, Mazongshan has been targeted by more wolves than ever," Bariba said.

The herdsman ties empty liquor bottles on the wires surrounding his sheep pen and hopes the sound of bottles bouncing against each other scare away the wolves.

"It used to work, but the wolves are getting smarter and not scared of them anymore. In 2011, two wolves jumped into the pen one night and killed more than ten sheep," he said. In 2011, more than 1,000 livestock, including sheep and camels, were killed by wolves in the area.

"Herding on the Gobi has become increasingly difficult, and many young people decided to work elsewhere," Bariba said. "I fear that there won't be many of us left here in the future."

Life changing for people of Mazongshan

Reporter: Cui Jia

Photo: Zou Hong

Video: Yu Chenkang

Producer: Flora Yue