Rare Tibetan antelope listed as endangered

The Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) today applauded a decision today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Tibetan antelope, also known as "chiru," as an endangered species. Through a series of expeditions to China's windswept Chang Tang Reserve over the past two decades, WCS had played a key role in sounding the alarm about the dramatic decline of this elegant animal due to poaching.

The antelope's wool, considered the finest in the world, is used for "shahtoosh" shawls (shahtoosh translates to "king of wool"), which are sold in the black market for up to $15,000 each. In the 1980s and 1990s, smuggled shawls made their way to European and U.S. markets, and became elite though highly illegal fashion statements. With such a high price on its head, tens of thousands of antelope have been slaughtered in recent years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Tibetan antelope under the Endangered Species Act, reinforcing protection for an animal already safeguarded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that the species, including its parts and products, is prohibited from international trade for commercial purposes. The listing, published in today's Federal Register, takes effect April 28, 2006.

"With today's listing, the United States has made a real commitment to helping ensure the future of this beautiful species," said Dr. George Schaller of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to provide even more protection to the Tibetan antelope through the Endangered Species Act, one of this country's most important environmental laws."

Working with Chinese biologists, Dr. Schaller was the first western scientists to document the biology of the chiru, which lives in the isolated Tibetan plateau in China.

An upcoming National Geographic film will chronicle the plight of the chiru, and the extraordinary enforcement efforts undertaken by China to help eliminate poaching. The film premieres in New York and Washington next month.

"As a mascot of the 2008 Olympics the world's attention is on the chiru. With that, and its full protection, the vast herds of the past could once again roam the Tibetan uplands," Dr. Schaller said.

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