For nearly a quarter of a century the Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), popularly known as the "chiru" has received international protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At long last, the United States Department of the Interior is acting to protect this imperiled species as "endangered" under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well.
On October 6, 2003 the Department of the Interior proposed to list the chiru as endangered, four years after the first request was submitted for such protection. The Tibetan Antelope is increasingly impacted by a number of human-induced factors throughout its home range, particularly in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The chiru has been displaced from its historic homes by the increasing development of roads and railways and rangeland use for the grazing of domestic livestock. Other activities such as mining (especially for gold) have destroyed vital chiru habitat and increased poaching. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, "illegal gold mining camps in the Arjin Shan Reserve in Xinjiang have served as bases for poachers and have provided them with essential logistical support and access."
The biggest continuous threat to the chiru is poaching to supply the global market for the animals' exceedingly fine hair, called "shahtoosh," which is woven into expensive shawls. As a result, the species has endured a population decline of more than 85% in the past three decades. Without immediate action, the US government estimates that the chiru will go extinct in our lifetime.
A listing under the ESA would greatly assist wildlife law enforcement agents in the US. Although CITES prevents the importation of shahtoosh into the country, in order to prosecute someone trying to sell the products in America, one must prove that it was illegally smuggled-a difficult burden. Listing under the ESA would prohibit the domestic sale completely. We hope for a final decision to list soon.
Caption: Tibetan Antelope, clinging to life on the remote Tibetan Plateau, are killed for their fur, which is used to create some of the most valuable shawls on earth. IFAW/George Schaller