Tibetan antelope slowly recovering, WCS says

Feb 01, 2007

Returning from a recent 1,000-mile expedition across Tibet's remote Chang Tang region, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologist George Schaller reports that the Tibetan antelope -- once the target of rampant poaching -- may be increasing in numbers due to a combination of better enforcement and a growing conservation ethic in local communities.

The eight-week journey, which was co-funded by WCS and National Geographic, took place over a remarkably uninhabited region that routinely ranged between 16,000-17,000 feet. There, Schaller, along with WCS staff member Aili Kang and a team of Tibetan and Han-Chinese biologists and field assistants, counted nearly 9,000 Tibetan antelope or chiru, more than expected. This may indicate an increase in some places for this endangered species, according to Schaller. At the same time, the team witnessed no direct evidence of the widespread poaching that was evident just a few years ago.

"China has made a major effort to control poaching," said Schaller. "The large poaching gangs of the 1990s, which were at times arrested with 600 or more chiru hides largely ceased to exist.

Tibetan antelope produce the finest wool in the world, known as shahtoosh, which translates to "king of wool." Beginning in the late 1980s, shahtoosh shawls became fashionable in Europe and the U.S., which fueled a black market and widespread poaching in this remote area. In the mid 1990s, Schaller estimated that perhaps 75,000 chiru remained in the wild, with as many as 20,000 falling to poachers annually. However, no comprehensive census of chiru has ever taken place due to a sprawling range that spans more than 250,000 square miles.

The team also counted more than 1,000 wild yak, a relatively high number for a species that's far more endangered than the chiru, due to hunting and hybridization with domestic yak. The group saw an increase in wild asses, too, though they are persecuted by nomads who believe they compete with livestock for grass.

Schaller noted that some nomadic communities living in the Chang Tang region have made concerted efforts to safeguard their wildlife and have established local wildlife preserves to protect populations of wild yak and other wildlife.

"These wholly local Tibetan initiatives are the best means of establishing long-lasting conservation efforts, and they should be encouraged in every possible way," said Schaller.

The journey traversed the entire northern Chang Tang region, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in over a century, when in 1896 two British army officers made the journey on horseback, according to Schaller. Forsaking horses this time, Schaller's expedition used two Land Cruisers and two trucks -- one of which was lost when it broke through ice while crossing a frozen lake and became entombed in mud.

Much of the journey took place across the rugged and windswept Chang Tang Reserve, a Colorado-sized park, which WCS helped convince the Chinese Government to establish in 1993.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Explore further: Team defines new biodiversity metric

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mobile use bad for school test scores: Japan study

3 hours ago

Children who spend more than four hours a day on their mobile phone perform significantly worse on school tests than those who are limited to just 30 minutes, a Japanese government survey has found.

Amazon could be ESPN of video games in Twitch deal

4 hours ago

Amazon is hoping to become the ESPN of video games. The e-commerce giant is buying streaming platform Twitch Interactive for $970 million in cash as it seeks to take part in video gaming's growth as an onlin ...

A look at earthquake's impact on California region

13 hours ago

A strong earthquake rattled a swath of Northern California's wine country in the early hours of Sunday morning, unleashing most of its damage on the city of Napa in the heart of the vineyard-studded region.

Recommended for you

Team defines new biodiversity metric

4 hours ago

To understand how the repeated climatic shifts over the last 120,000 years may have influenced today's patterns of genetic diversity, a team of researchers led by City College of New York biologist Dr. Ana ...

Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin

8 hours ago

The Natural History Museum of Denmark recently discovered a unique gift from one of the greatest-ever scientists. In 1854, Charles Darwin – father of the theory of evolution – sent a gift to his Danish ...

User comments : 0