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Human Activities Have 'Little Impact' on Antelope Habitats
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The Tibetan antelope's habitats and migratory routes have been little affected despite increasing human activities on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, zoologists have confirmed.

A 12-year investigation led by Liu Wulin, director of the Tibetan Forestry Inspection Institute, and George Schaller, a professor from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, has reached this conclusion.

The Tibetan antelope, which tops the State protection list for its uniqueness to China, is scattered around southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Northwest China's Qinghai Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The population of the animal shrank sharply in the 20th century mainly due to rampant poaching which caused it to shorten its routine migratory paths to avoid the bullets of hunters.

Poachers are usually driven by the high profits from selling the fur to international traffickers for making shahtoosh shawls -- a luxury item which costs the lives of three to five Tibetan antelopes to make just one.

As a result, the animal's population was reduced from millions in the early 20th century to just 90,000 in 1997.

To save the rare animal from extinction, China set up a national nature reserve for Tibetan antelopes on 600,000 square kilometers of the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau composed of the Hoh Xil area in Qinghai Province, the Qiangtang area in Tibet, and the Altun Mountain area in Xinjiang.

In Qinghai, the local government has also established a special team to fight illegal poaching, while Tibet has planned to invest more than 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) to improve the living environment of the Tibetan antelope.

Their efforts have gradually paid off, as the population of the animal has grown from 90,000 in 1997 to a current level of more than 100,000. The number is increasing at an annual speed of five to seven per cent.

Since 1997, Liu and Schaller have searched remote areas 5,000 meters above sea level, and found several Tibetan antelope habitats for the first time in the southern foothills of the Kunlun Mountains and Hoh Xil Lake area.

The on-the-spot investigation showed that 80 percent of the animals travel in large groups from the south to the north every year, settling in the southern part of the Qiangtang Plain in winter and migrating to the Kunlun Mountains to give birth in spring and summer.

"Tibetan antelopes are very sensitive to climate and the living environment. Therefore, the little change in their habitats and migratory paths prove the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau remains the favorable home of wild animals,'' Liu said.

"But fewer antelopes are migrating along one route in the most northeastern part of the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau due to poaching.''

According to experts, the Tibetan antelope must maintain a population of 50,000 or they will degenerate.

(China Daily April 8, 2003)

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