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Mounting Fears for Antelopes

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/08/20; August 20, 2002.]

China Daily, 08/20/2002

Tibetan antelopes on the verge of extinction are still threatened by poaching and habitat damage despite progress in anti-poaching campaigns in China, according to Chinese wild animal protection authorities.

They cited new research as a warning that if illegal hunting persists, the highly endangered species could soon disappear from the planet.

Over the past five years, a group of Chinese and American researchers studying the antelope's birthing and breeding behaviours have discovered that the stability of the Tibetan antelope population has been seriously undermined as many adult female antelopes have been killed.

Pregnant antelopes run a higher risk of being hunted because they travel in large groups along routine paths to give birth in certain areas each year, thus becoming easy targets for poachers.

The researchers found in the 1998-99 period, when the poaching was rampant, the percentage of pregnant females dropped to below 30 per cent.

At the same time an average of 20,000 antelopes, or more than 30 per cent of the estimated total, were slaughtered annually.

Chinese wildlife protection authorities and the police have launched anti-poaching campaigns and patrols in the antelopes' major habitats since 1999, arresting poachers and confiscating a large number of antelope hides.

But officials acknowledged that poaching is still far from being eradicated because of the international fashion trade in "shahtoosh," the fine and soft shawl made from antelope wool.

A single shahtoosh shawl, priced at US$18,000 in Western countries, is reportedly made at the cost of three to five antelopes' lives.

"As long as huge profits exist, poachers will risk danger in order to kill antelopes," said Wang Dehui, an official with the Department of Nature Environmental Conservation, which is under the State Environmental Protection Administration.

Tibetan antelopes are long-term residents on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in the west of the country. The population has dropped from several million to below 70,000 in the past two decades due to extensive poaching and damage to the animals' habitat in the wake of a gold rush.

"If the poaching is not stopped promptly, Tibetan antelopes could very possibly be extinct in near future," said Professor Li Weidong at the Xinjiang Research Institute of Environmental Protection, a major participant of the research.

China has designated as a national nature reserve for Tibetan antelopes 600,000 square kilometres of the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau composed of the Hoh Xil area in Qinghai Province, the Qiangtang area in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Altun Mountain area in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

China's efforts to protect antelopes have also won wide support from the international community, said Fan Zhiyong, an official with the State Office for Management of Imports and Exports of Endangered Species.

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has promised to back China in crackdowns on poaching and illegal deals, Fan said.

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