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Struggle for Food Endangers Antelope

The worsening environment has put Procapra Przewalskii, a rare wild antelope species unique to China, in a life-or-death struggle for food with herdsmen's livestock in northwest China's Qinghai Province.

Procapra Przewalskii has recently been sighted near herdsmen's residential areas or sheep pens, where it is hungrily searching for food on winter mornings.

"It shows that hunger is driving this timid and vigilant antelope to desperation," said a local herdsman.

Procapra Przewalskii, named after Russian naturalist Przewalskii, is a very attractive variety of highland antelope. Once inhabiting a large area covering Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai, they are now confined to four tiny separate habitats around the Qinghai Lake, China's largest salty water lake.

Numbering less than 150, Procapra Przewalskii has been placed on the World Conservation Union's Red List, classing it as one of the world's most threatened species.

And it is far rarer than the Tibetan Antelope, another rare species unique to China, which still has a total population of over 70,000.

Continuous environmental degradation in and around the Qinghai Lake in recent years has been pushing this precious antelope closer to the brink of extinction.

Xie Yan, an animal expert at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that increasing human activities are the major reason for the crisis facing Procapra Przewalskii.

For example, overgrazing of grassland has greatly reduced Procapra Przewalskii's food sources. The enclosure of the pastures by the local herdsmen has blocked the antelopes' migration route, making genetic exchanges among different groups impossible and inbreeding unavoidable. And the building of more roads, combined with the expansion of tourism has greatly limited the living space of Procapra Przewalskii.

Time is running out for this precious wild animal. Scientists worry that if such a trend continues, Procapra Przewalkii may die out in the very near future.

(China Daily March 10, 2004)

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