Chiru saved from extinction
With growing conservation ethic, the antelope's numbers have gone up.Updated: Feb 03, 2007, 19:31 IST
The endangered chiru or the Tibetan antelope, once the target of rampant poaching is slowing recovering from the brink of extinction, thanks to a combination of better enforcement and a growing conservation ethic in local communities.
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologist George Schaller, who recently returned from a eight week 1,000-mile expedition across Tibet's remote Chang Tang region, counted as many as 9000 of the animals, much more than expected, and also witnessed no direct evidence of widespread poaching that was evident just a few years ago.
Schaller said China had initiated a major effort to control poaching and many of the active gangs of the 1990’s had now ceased to exist.
"China has made a major effort to control poaching. The large poaching gangs of the 1990s, which were at times arrested with 600 or more chiru hides largely ceased to exist,” said Schaller.
Schaller said some nomadic communities living in the Chang Tang region had made concerted efforts to safeguard their wildlife and had 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," he said.
Chiru produces the finest wool in the world, known as ‘shahtoosh’, which translates into "king of wool".
The popularity of ‘shahtoosh’ shawls greatly contributed to the decimation of the chiru antelope till the WWF scheduled it on its list of endangered animals.
Schaller said as many as 75,000 chiru remained in the wild, with as many as 20,000 falling to poachers annually.
The journey, ranging between 16,000-17,000 feet 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.
Schaller's expedition across the rugged and windswept landscape however, 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.