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Tibetan antelope has rival
( 2003-11-11 11:39) (Xinhua)

Chinese stock breeding experts are hoping to spawn a substitute for Tibetan antelopes to satisfy the huge worldwide demand for the fine wool of the endangered animal.

Experts with the agriculture academy of the Tibet Autonomous Region have worked for some 10 years on selective breeding of white fur goats, a rare breed of goat, in Rutog County of Ngari Prefecture, one of the major habitats of Tibetan antelopes, said Lu Riqing, secretary of the county's Communist Party Committee who is also in charge of the experimental program.

While Tibetan antelopes supposedly boast the finest wool of any wild animal, the Rutog white goats, also known as Kashmir white goats, have the finest and purest wool of domestic goats.

The wool of Tibetan antelopes is commonly between 7 and 9 microns in fineness, while Rutog white goat wool, a stock breed under state protection, is between 9 and 13 microns.

A shawl made from wool of Tibetan antelopes, which is called Shahtoosh, admired by European nobles and rich people from ancient times, is said to be able to pass through a finger ring.

The lure of high prices, at hundreds of thousands of US dollars, triggered rampant poaching of Tibetan antelopes, which once put the rare animal under the threat of extinction.

Their numbers have been rising in recent years thanks to the efforts of governments at all levels in cracking down on poaching and establishing nature preserves on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, dubbed "the roof of the world," Lu said.

At the same time, Lu added, stock breeding experts also hope to find a substitute for Tibetan antelopes as another measure to stop poaching.

Environmentalists said the development of the Rutog white goat industry and the substitution plan can help save more Tibetan antelopes from poaching.

Using wool of the improved breed of the white goats, Rutog County and an enterprise in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Ordos Cashmere Product Co Ltd, have developed new cashmere sweaters, which are 50 percent lighter and warmer than other products of the same thickness, Lu said.

If possible, Lu said, a DNA test will be conducted to check if the white goats and Tibetan antelopes are genetically linked and stock breeding experts might conduct hybridization experiments between the two animals.

Yexe Doje, an expert with the stock breeding institute of the autonomous region, said it is possible that a substitute for Tibetan antelopes may be bred through hybridization.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Science and Technology have set the hybridization experiment as a key research program, he revealed.

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