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Antelope Protection Stepped Up

Forestry officials in Qinghai Province, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions have agreed to establish a transregional patrol as well as an anti-poaching information-sharing system to protect one of the country's most endangered species, the Tibetan antelope. The agreement was signed recently in Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province.

In the past two years, the area where Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang meet has become a haven for poachers and smugglers of Tibetan antelopes, according to Cai Ga, director of the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve Administrative Bureau.

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

Taking the advantage of the locale's geography, poachers have evaded patrols in the 600,000 square kilometers of grassland in the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, the Altun Mountains and the Qiangtang Nature Reserve, habitats of the Tibetan antelopes.

Starting from 2005, the three regions will organize anti-poaching blitzes in those fringe areas, reported Zheng Jie, vice director of the Qinghai Forestry Bureau. During daily patrols, each regional team must follow and investigate poaching incidents and work with the other teams to solve cases.

The three regions started exchanging information pertaining to Tibetan antelope smuggling this year, officials said.

Tibetan antelopes are a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Class One and China Grade One protected species.

Poaching of Tibetan antelope is fueled by international trade in the animals' undercoat, known as shahtoosh. The softest, warmest wool in the world, the fiber measures nine to 12 microns in diameter, about one-fifth that of a human hair. A single shahtoosh shawl may sell for as much as US$18,000 in some Western nations.

The only way to obtain shahtoosh is to kill the animal. Three to five antelopes yield sufficient wool for one shawl. It is believed that as many as 20,000 Tibetan antelope are killed annually to supply the trade.

Also on the endangered species front this week, reports from Shantou Customs indicate that around 8,100 antelope horns, weighing 2.4 tons in total, were recently seized in Jieyang City, Guangdong Province. Some of the horns appear to be from Saiga antelope, which once thrived in China but have now disappeared from the country.

The horns were discovered in a business premise whose owner was unable to produce proof of legal purchase and eventually admitted that they had been smuggled from Russia. The owner has been detained pending further investigation.

Any import or export of antelopes or antelope products require special licensing.

Police said that some of the horns are believed to be from Saiga antelopes, which disappeared from China in the 1940s owing to habitat shrinkage and rampant poaching. Saiga horn is often used in traditional Chinese medicine for treatment of fever, stroke, headache and dizziness.

Because of worldwide depletion of Saiga populations, the animals are a CITES Class Two protected species and a Grade One protected species in China.

China acceded to CITES in 1981.

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn August 25, 2004)

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