Affectionately known as the "Plateau Elf," the Tibetan antelope resides in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude of over 5,000 meters above sea level. They can run at speeds of up to 70 kilometers an hour. But just what does the animal subsist on that gives it such great physical strength in such a harsh natural environment?
Chinese scientists, after 18 years of painstaking research and study, have discovered that the Tibetan antelopes' diet consists of over 360 species of plant.
The study was supervised by Liu Wulin, former director of the Survey and Planning Institute under the Tibet Forestry Bureau, and conducted by 119 researchers.
According to the research report, the antelope's diet can be divided into five categories:
(a) Favorite foods: 118 species;
(b) Alternative sources: 165 species;
(c) Contingency foods: 42 species;
(d) Leisure foods (or snacks): 25 species; and
(e) Foods eaten occasionally: 17 species.
Liu said that the bulk of the antelope's diet is food belonging to the grass, pulse, and sedge families. Grass is the most abundant and commonly found plant in the prairies of Tibet. Moreover, the type that grows there is of a high quality, which is why it is the staple of choice for the antelope.
Tibetan antelopes also have a liking for Oxytropis glacialis and Oxytropis oligantha, which are types of pulse. Plants of the composite species are the antelope's main food in winter. Ceratoides lateens, a kind of weed with a protein content of between 19 and 30 percent, is their key source of nourishment during the lambing seasons.
The plants also provide the antelopes with water, as does the snow. However, they are known to hunt for specific types of food, such as sand or earth with a high salt content, when they are ill or deficient in a certain nutrient.
(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, July 21, 2006)