China Exclusive: Tibetan antelope struck from endangered list
LHASA, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Wildlife advocates cheered the removal of "chiru" (Tibetan antelopes) from the endangered species list, but pledged to continue campaigning.
A joint report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, published in June, announced that the Tibetan antelope was no longer an endangered species.
"Due to effective protection, there are now around 200,000 Tibetan antelopes in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau area, and the population is steadily climbing," said Shirab, Forestry Police chief in Nagchu Prefecture, Tibet.
Tibetan antelopes mainly live in western China, in Qinghai Province, and Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions. About 80 percent live in Changtang in northern Tibet.
Poachers in search of soft gold, the antelope's pelts, led to a sharp population decline in the 1990s. By the beginning of 2000, only 70,000 TIbetan antelopes were left.
Shahtoosh, an ultra-soft shawl woven from yarn made from the animal's down fur, can fetch upward of 40,000 dollars. On average, it takes the hide of three antelope to create one Shahtoosh.
In 1996 and 1997, more than 840 kilograms of yarn were seized at two customs points in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, according to Tibet customs data.
"Protective measures since 2000 have paid off. In 2000, Changtang Nature Reserve was elevated to the national level, creating a protected habitat for the species," said Drolma Yangzom, the director of wildlife protection at the regional forestry department.
"Thanks to increased funding, we set up more bases, bought specialized vehicles and installed better communication facilities. Wherever the Tibetan antelopes go, we send groups to watch over them," said Yangzom.
Thanks to the work of about 400 wildlife protection specialists, in the past five years, 346 cases of poaching were discovered and 18 people were prosecuted, he said.
Last May, Xinhua followed an inspection tour organized by Tibetan forestry police who were tasked with guarding the antelopes during their migration. No evidence of poaching was found but a few herdsman were found in possession of sculls and pelts, which they had collected from dead antelopes. They were confiscated and suspects of poaching were handed to police.
Zongga, deputy forestry chief in Tibet, called for a continuation of the "precious work" that had helped bolster the antelope's population. However, for the protection team, this is no easy task .
"On average, one person has to cover 500 square kilometers," said Karma Tsedrub, Ngari deputy forestry chief.
"Every winter, the patrol team must spend more than one month in the wild. The living and work conditions are harsh," Tsedrub said.
Though removed from the endangered list, Tibetan antelopes still face threats, such as increased tourism.
"We have to prevent tourism from undoing all the good work of wildlife protection, " Zongga said.
Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)