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HOHHOT, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Wearing animal skin clothing handed down from his elder generations and facing the snow-covered forest farm in north China, Juele sounds a long, clear call.
"Ah-oh," he shouts, followed by "emege," an Ewenki word meaning "come back." The 39-year-old member of the Aoluguya Ewenki tribe is searching for his reindeer herd in the forests of the Greater Hinggan Mountains.
After each shout, he stands still and listens quietly for a moment. If the nearby reindeer hear his call, they will move and the bells hanging around their necks will ring.
The forest farm where Juele herds his more than 60 reindeer is located over 80 kilometers away from the city of Genhe in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and it is subordinate to the state-owned Jinhe forest industry company.
Following the Aoluguya Ewenki people's traditional herding methods, Juele usually lets his reindeer forage and roam freely in the forest. Every two to three days, he treks over the snow and ventures into the forest to find them.
"It would be difficult to find the reindeer if they wander away. Also, with better ecology, there are more wild animals in the forest such as bears, lynxes and wolves, so I often come to see if the reindeer have encountered any predators," said Juele. A few days ago, one of his reindeer was killed by a lynx, he said.
The Aoluguya Ewenki people, known as the last hunting tribe in China, belong to the Ewenki ethnic group -- the only ethnic minority group in China that makes a living by raising reindeer.
In their language, Aoluguya Ewenki means "people living in the mountains and lush poplar forests." The ethnic culture was once at risk of disappearing, but now it is passed on thanks to the country's protection efforts.
Since childhood, Juele lived with his mother in the forest and listened to the reindeer bells. After graduating from a health school, he worked in a Beijing hospital.
"Then, when I sat on my couch at home in Beijing, I always heard reindeer bells," he said.
In 2015, he returned to Aoluguya Township in Genhe and took over the task of raising reindeer from his aging mother.
For Juele, life rearing reindeer is sometimes monotonous and hard. His reindeer herding area in the hinterland of the Greater Hinggan Mountains is more than 10 kilometers away from the nearest town, and there is no phone signal.
The recent low temperature in Genhe, known as "China's cold pole," hits minus 43 degrees Celsius. Even on bitingly cold days, Juele has to walk kilometers through knee-deep snow to search for his herd.
On Dec. 23, 2022, Juele spent eight hours searching for his reindeer in the forest. He did the same for the next eight days, and finally found them on Jan. 1.
"It was the best New Year's gift I have ever received, and I thought to myself that 2023 would be a wonderful year," he said.
Over the years, governments at various levels in Inner Mongolia have taken a series of measures to improve the living standards of the Aoluguya Ewenki people.
In 2003, the tribe was relocated to the western suburbs of Genhe, with free residences provided by the governments.
Their reindeer breeding traditions have been protected. At reindeer herding sites in the forest, the governments prepared small heat-retaining houses with wheels for herders, so that they could live there and take their reindeer to migrate in other forest farms.
Additionally, the governments developed local tourism to help the herders improve their incomes.
"I probably make more than 100,000 yuan (about 14,770 U.S. dollars) every year from reindeer-related industries, such as reindeer raising and tourism," Juele said.
However, his income and the local tourism have been affected by the COVID-19 epidemic over the past three years.
Juele now says he is looking forward to this summer, and he believes the tourism industry in Genhe will flourish again. ■