It was an early December morning when the sun, as always, rose from the east, and shined on a dense birch forest filled with snow. With temperatures at 40 below in the northwestern Greater Hinggan Mountains of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Gu Musen called his reindeer out to feed them with moss.

Two years ago, when the 33-year-old herdsman began raising reindeer and recording his daily life via the short video app Douyin, also known as TikTok, his posts have gone viral, garnering millions of likes and has attracted nearly 160,000 followers.

To revive China’s last ancient reindeer herding tribe and help Ewenki’s inhabitants leave the mountains, local authorities of the Aoluguya nationality township have spent decades on efforts to boost the area’s sustainable growth, focusing on cultural heritage inheritance, environmental protection and ecological tourism development.

Gu is one of the 200 or so herders in the tribe who have reaped the benefits. He worked as a veterinarian after the government set up a reindeer conservation station in 2015, and started his own business four years later breeding reindeer in the forest.

“I have over 30 reindeer now and mainly make money through selling velvet antlers, which are known for culinary and medicinal properties,” Gu said. “In addition, as tourism has been booming in recent years and more people come here to experience Ewenki’s Arctic culture, I can earn over 1,000 yuan ($143.9) per day during peak season in summer.”

To revive reindeer culture and sustain increase in herders’ income, local officials carried out tax-free policies and offered tents, recreational vehicles and daily supplies free of charge. With years of effort, the number of breeding centers has grown to 16 in operation, and the reindeer population witnessed a steady growth, from about 100 to 1,200.

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