Profile: The guardian of bharal on Mount Arbas
HOHHOT, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- In the scorching heat, Arbin, 66, carries two fully-loaded plastic buckets of water and hobbles his way up a mountain path. After moving just 50 meters along the path, he was completely soaked in sweat.
Every other summer day for the last eight years, Arbin has walked this path on Mount Arbas in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He carries around 20 kg of water for the herd of bharal, also known as Himalayan blue sheep, that live there.
Locals have given him the nickname "bharal father."
Scaling Mount Arbas, well-known for its steep cliffs and bare rocks, is a challenge for professional climbers, but the mountain is paradise for the bharal, who have excellent climbing skills.
In 2009, Arbin, a photographer, set foot on the mountain for the first time to photograph the sheep.
"At that time, they were very cautious and alert, so I had to stay about 300 m away and use a telephoto lens," recalled Arbin.
Arbin noticed the newborn lambs were extremely weak and were growing very slowly. He later learned that some of the ewes were not able to produce enough milk due to the scarcity of water in the area, which led to their lambs becoming malnourished.
"That was when I had the idea to deliver water for the bharal," Arbin said.
He discovered a herd regularly drank water from a small pool formed by rainwater. The steep cliffs made it impossible to reach the pool by walking or driving from the foot of the hill.
Arbin rode a motorcycle to the mountaintop and used a rope to lower the buckets down to a large rock. He then climbed down to the rock to carry the water to the pool about 300 meters away.
It was a demanding challenge for the man then in his late 50s. Arbin delivered water every other day for two years, but gradually felt it was becoming beyond his physical limitations to continue.
In 2012, he installed a plastic pipe from the mountaintop to the pool. This meant he only had to walk around 200 meters from where he parked his motorcycle to the pipe to deliver the water.
Over time, the cautious herd gradually became familiar with Arbin and let down their guard.
"Now they are not frightened even if I am just 3 m away from them," said Arbin, "I can even take their photo with my mobile phone."
The retiree said he feels more lively and young from being in touch with the animals.
More than 10 bharal drink water from the pool and Arbin can identify each one of them.
"Their color and patterns look similar, but they differ in the length and curvature of their horns," said Arbin, "All of them are the descendants of one I named 'older sister.'"
"Older sister" was the first bharal Arbin met in 2009. She disappeared in 2014. Arbin searched for her but has been unable to find her.
He gave a photo he took of "older sister" to a craftsman and asked him to make a clay model which he keeps in his home in memory of her.
"She has gone, but her descendants are here," Arbin said, "I will take good care of them for her."
The breeding season for bharal is from May to June every year. During the period, Arbin keeps a close eye on every newborn in the herd.
Arbin named one lamb "May 25" after its birthdate. He noticed that it couldn't run and climb as well as its peers, and wasn't able to reach the puddle on the hillside for water.
Arbin dug a small waterhole for the lamb and laid a separate pipe to fill it with water.
Unfortunately, it died that winter.
Influenced by Arbin, local herders have become more aware of the importance of protecting wild animals.
About two weeks ago, a herder named Sarangowa called Arbin for help with a lamb she found by the roadside.
"My husband and I took the hungry and weak lamb back to our house. We fed it fresh grass and water to help it recover," said Sarangowa.
The next day, Arbin returned it to its herd on Mount Arbas.
In recent years, the population of bharal has risen from dozens to more than 300. The local government has strengthened protection in the nature reserve, vegetation coverage has increased by 24 percent, and the number of vegetation species has risen by 27 percent.
Arbin's wife Qimug learned to drive in 2012 so that she could drive Arbin to the mountaintop. In summer, they often camp out in the mountains to observe the blue sheep at night.
"We want to take more photos of the bharal, so we can still appreciate them when we are too old to climb the mountain," said Arbin.