From: Reuters
Published April 21, 2008 04:08 AM

Prized Tibetan antelope triple in remote reserve

BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of prized Tibetan antelope in a remote region of northwest China has tripled to 60,000 in 10 years thanks to a crackdown on illegal hunting, a government website said on Monday.

The Tibetan antelope, or chiru, has been listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union because of commercial poaching for their underwool called shahtoosh. The wool, known as "soft gold," has fuelled a growing illegal trade market in India, Nepal and several western cities since late 1980s.

Environmentalists say five antelope are killed to make a two-meter shawl, which weighs only 150 to 170 grams and is so fine it can be passed through a wedding ring.

"Breeding is increasing in Kekexili due to the improvement of the environment and the fight against illegal hunting," Cai Ga, director of the vast Kekexili Natural Reserve in Qinghai province, was quoted as saying on the Ministry of Forestry website (www.forestry.gov.cn).

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In 2006, China built more than 30 special migration underpasses along the new Qinghai-Tibet railway that bisects the animals' feeding grounds.

In February, an award-winning photographer, Liu Weiqiang, admitted he faked a photo showing more than 20 Tibetan antelope roaming peacefully under a railway bridge as a train roared overhead.

The animal lives above the tree line at an altitude of more than 14,000 ft. "Its natural environment is one of harsh bitter winds, minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, with occasional snowstorms even during the short summers," according to the Save the Chiru website (www.kekexili.com)

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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