Poaching Remains Main Threat to Tibetan Antelope

Saturday, August 20, 2005
Urmuqi, Xinjiang China
Sponsored by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare -- www.ifaw.org), the fourth Tibetan Antelope Anti-poaching and Conservation Workshop began today in China. Convened by conservation officials from nature reserves in Qinghai, Xinjiang and the Tibet, Province of China Autonomous Region, the two-day meeting focuses on solutions to anti-poaching and habitat restoration.
The Tibetan antelope is one of the flagship species of China’s Qinghai-Tibet, China Plateau and is highly endangered. By the mid-1990s its population had plummeted, from an estimated 2 million at the turn of 20th century, to merely 75,000 animals. Tibetan antelopes, also called Chiru, are hunted for their wool – considered the finest in the world -- which is woven into garments called Shahtoosh shawls. It takes several Tibetan antelope pelts to make a single shawl and a quality Shahtoosh shawl can cost up to €10,000 – twice as much as an economy-priced car in China.

Despite a strict international ban and protection under Chinese Wildlife Protection Law, the illegal trade in Tibetan antelope products is rampant and poaching remains the largest threat to the survival of the species. Recent incidents include:

· In June, Swiss customs confiscated 537 Shahtoosh shawls valued at more than €2.5 million. It was the largest-ever seizure of Shahtoosh in Europe.

· In August, the Kekexili Special Anti-Poaching Force unearthed more than 100 Tibetan antelope pelts during a raid.

· Also in August, New Delhi customs officials discovered an unspecified amount of Shahtoosh wool mixed in with bales of sheep wool. 

“IFAW is gravely concerned about the continued threat of poaching faced by the Tibetan antelope,” said Grace Gabriel, deputy director of IFAW’s Wildlife and Habitat Protection Department. “The crimes in just the past few months indicate that at least 1,700 endangered Tibetan antelope were slaughtered, a significant blow to the survival of the species. ”

“Although efforts have been made by Chinese authorities to fight against poachers, the Tibetan antelope population in the wild still has not recovered from the verge of extinction,” said Dr. Zhang Li, director of IFAW’s China office. “The aggressive market for Shahtoosh still exists and remains the biggest engine driving the continued slaughter of Tibetan antelopes.”

Huge profit margins from the illegal sale of Tibetan antelope products has fed a thriving international poaching and smuggling network. IFAW’s report “Wrap Up the Trade” discovered that poaching, trafficking, manufacturing and trading activities are each housed in different countries -- indicating a very complex, multi-national criminal network.

“Poaching is becoming more and more sophisticated. Poachers monitor our anti-poaching patrols and then strike whenever there is an open opportunity. They work in small groups, making them extremely mobile and hard to find,” said Fan, an official with the China National Forestry Police Bureau.

“Moreover, the value of Chiru pelts in the international market has doubled, stimulating an increase in crime within China. We urge international communities to reinforce market supervision within their own countries as well.”   

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