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Tibet's physical isolation means that it is home to some unique animal and plant species. But its rapid development and resettling by the Han Chinese mean its special environment is now under threat.

Tibet is about 70% grassland, and its main economy is agricultural. Human rights groups say that the Chinese government's policy of settling the region's nomads is having a substantial impact on Tibet's ecology.

The stated aims of the government's policy are to improve the economic viability of farming and protect the nomads from natural disasters. While this has led to some short-term gains, Tibetan groups say, it has led to the over-grazing of some grasslands. Tibet's wildlife is also at risk from widespread commercial hunting and poaching.

Environmental groups are worried that the current pressure on Tibet's resources will only increase with the opening of a controversial rail link from Golmud in Qinghai province to Lhasa. According to the Tibetan government in exile, the railway cuts through three nature reserves, all home to endangered antelope and gazelle.

China believes Tibet to be an important reservoir of natural resources. It is the prime source of Asia's major rivers, and harbours extensive forest and minerals.

Lhasa Customs officers inspect a piece of tiger skin, 14 June, 2005

Tibet fights to thwart the smuggling of its animal products
Yamdrok-tso late, Tibet

Tibet's largest freshwater lake is now a source of hydro-electric power


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