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Plight of antelope tied web of survival
By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-29 22:08

Tibetan antelope, Hoh Xil, poachers, patrol teams are words with a common theme--survival.

As depicted in the movie Hoh Xil (kekexili) which is now being shown in Beijing and other cinemas in cities across China, the world is full of fights for survival.

Man needs to survive in nature, Tibetan antelopes need to survive the guns of poachers, poachers need to survive patrol team's chasing after them, team members need to survive sniper's among the poachers, and above all, the Earth needs to survive human greed.

The movie, coming from the real experiences of conflicts between Tibetan antelope poachers and a volunteer patrol team seeking to protect the animals set in 1996, has aroused great awareness of the need to protect endangered Tibetan antelope.

Xu Xia, a Beijing resident in her 20s, said she was greatly shocked by the miserable fate of the antelope after seeing the movie and would like to do something to help save the animal from extinction.

Every year since 2002, Hoh Xil Nature Reserve in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, the breeding ground to Tibetan antelope, has seen dozens of volunteers coming from every part of the country to provide a helping hand for conservancy work there.

The slender, gazelle-like creature is found in the adjoining area between Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Poaching of the antelope for its wool in the area was heavy. The wool is the finest known, and is smuggled to Kashmir area and India where it is woven into shahtoosh shawls which are sold worldwide to the wealthy for as much as US$18,000 each.

A century ago, more than a million Tibetan antelope roamed the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, while today it is estimated that less than 100,000 remain in the wild.

 "The actual number of Tibetan antelope might be more of a pessimistic figure since some may have been repeatedly accounted for as animals move from one area to another,'' Du Yu, an official from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told China Daily over the weekend.

Du said her group, a US-based conservation organization that has worked for years to protect the antelope from extinction, has continued discovering illegal hauls of shahtoosh wool in India and internationally in recent years.

 "Shahtoosh shawl, a bloody luxury, is still in great demand in the world market, posing a big threat to the endangered animal,'' Du said.

The profitable overseas trade in shahtoosh has led to rampant poaching in the high alpine steppes, claiming around 20,000 Tibetan antelopes each year, according to statistics with the State Forestry Administration.

In 1998, the administration promulgated the China White Paper for Protecting Tibetan Antelope, appealing to the international community for joint efforts in protecting the animal and stopping the sale of shawls.

China launched two national anti-poaching campaigns in 1999 and 2004, but antelope killing and smuggling remain rampant in the border area.

A trans-regional patrol and anti-poaching mechanism will be set up to protect the Tibetan antelope in the near future, forestry officials from Qinghai, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions have agreed.

The agreement was signed earlier this year in Xining, Qinghai Province's capital.

To stop the mass-slaughter of the antelope, Tibet established a 334,000-square-kilometre Chang Tang Nature Reserve in 1993. Adjoining areas in Qinghai helped to establish the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve and Xinjiang set up the Altun Mountain Nature Reserve, making the total protected area for Tibetan antelope some 600,000 square kilometres.

Besides poaching, other activities such as mining have destroyed vital antelope habitat, said Yuan Guoying, a researcher with the Xinjiang Environmental Protection Institute.

 "Illegal gold mining camps in the Altun Mountain reserve in Xinjiang have also served as bases for poachers and have provided them with essential logistical support," Yuan said.

The animal has been displaced from its historic homes by the increasing development of roads and railways and grassland use for the grazing of domestic livestock, Yuan said.

One of the major challenges is to manage the protected areas to achieve a measure of harmony between the needs of wildlife and the nomadic population with its livestock, he said.

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