Scientists have found three new groups of an extremely endangered Chinese gazelle.
The new groups of Przewalski's gazelle were found near the Qinghai Lake basin, a traditional habitat for the animal in northeast China's Qinghai Province.
The Przewalski's gazelle (Procapra Przewalskii), unique to China like the famous Tibetan antelope, is the most endangered hoofed mammal in the world.
The new findings could mean the gazelle is less endangered than previously believed, according to Jiang Zhigang, head of the expert team that made the findings.
According to Jiang, chief researcher and the gazelle program manager of the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, only about 350 Przewalski's gazelles were living around Qinghai Lake in the mid-1980s.
Field surveys since then had suggested the whole population may have dropped to fewer than 300.
That compares with 1,000 giant pandas believed left in the wild, mainly in the hilly areas in China's Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.
Experts used to think the gazelles lived solely in the areas around Qinghai Lake, China's largest salty lake.
But starting in autumn and winter in 2003, acting on the tips of local people, the team led by Jiang, along with experts from the Qinghai provincial forestry department, expanded the search and finally found the three new herds in separate regions.
One gazelle group is in the Gonghe Basin, south of the Qinghai Lake basin but isolated from it by mountains.
Another two groups were found in Tianjun County in the Qaidam Basin, west of the lake basin.
One of the two lives in a mountainous valley in the southwest of the county, and the other in Kuaierma Town near the county seat.
According to experts, both gazelle communities in the county are in relatively good condition with a large number of members. Jiang said they were closely watching the groups and the specific number of gazelles would be revealed following further observation and calculation.
Dong Jiansheng, deputy director of the provincial wildlife reserve, said the finding of new gazelle groups will be significant to the protection of the animal and provide a fresh supply of genetic diversity.
The Przewalski's gazelle was named after a Russian adventurer who collected a specimen and brought it back to St Petersburg in 1875.
The historical distribution of the Przewalski's gazelle covered an area in central and northwest China, including the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
Its population has been affected by several decades of habitat destruction and reduction of its range. The increase of human and cattle populations and the development of cultivated land areas have reduced the availability of food for the gazelles.
To deal with the critical situation, Jiang Zhigang initiated a field project including research of the remaining populations living in other areas, creation of a nature reserve around Qinghai Lake, including some corridors between the three populations, identification of lands available for possible translocation and establishment of new populations.
(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2004)