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Hundreds Volunteer to Work to Save Tibetan Antelopes

About 3,000 people nationwide have sent in applications to volunteer for three months' work at China's largest nature reserve for Tibetan antelopes.

The figure is "much higher than expected," said Cai Ga, director of the Hol Xil Nature Reserve Administration Bureau.

Cai said volunteers in the fight against poaching should know the bodily risks to them posed by illegal hunters.

In addition, he said, they should be "physically strong" and capable of adapting to the climate of the plateau, which has an altitude of 4,000 meters to 5,000 meters above sea level.

All volunteers must also have a college degree or above.

Volunteers are unpaid and must pay their own travel and medical fees as well, Cai said.

Cai and several of his colleagues arrived in Beijing yesterday to recruit and meet the first batch of volunteers.

There will be 15 volunteers, and their names will be made public later this month.

Tibetan antelopes, whose population has decreased from more than 100,000 a decade ago to 40,000 today, are hotly pursued by illegal hunters.

That's because the shahtoosh shawl - a luxurious product made from antelope fur - is a popular international fashion statement, said Cai, who administers the 45,000-square-km reserve.

Lu said the team usually warns hunters to back off first, and most do run away.

But the team has had to fire back when attacked by a few extremist hunters, Lu said.

This has led to tragedy. Bureau staff member Lu Changzheng's Tibetan colleague Suonan Dajie was fatally shot by a poacher in 1994, for example.

Many applicants said they are eager to volunteer and hope they are chosen.

Li Qing, an applicant from the Beijing Notary Office, said during his job interview that he was motivated to help after reading about the damage caused by the poachers.

Zhang Chen, a 19-year-old recent high-school graduate, said: "If chosen, I will try my best to overcome the obstacles of the job. I think I am strong enough to handle them.''

The bureau's anti-poaching team has cracked down on more than 10 cases of antelope poaching. Those illegal hunters were mostly local poor farmers.

A medium-sized shahtoosh shawl costs the lives of three antelopes and can sell at more than US$30,000 on the international market, according to the bureau.

(China Daily March 22, 2002)

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