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Pantholops hodgsonii 

Scope: Global
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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Bovidae

Scientific Name: Pantholops hodgsonii
Species Authority: (Abel, 1826)
Common Name(s):
English Chiru, Tibetan Antelope
French Antilope du Tibet, Tchirou
Spanish Antilope del Tibet
Synonym(s):
Antilope hodgsonii
Taxonomic Notes: The Chiru or Tibetan Antelope is the only representative of a rather aberrant Caprinae genus (Pantholops) (Gatesy et al. 1997). It has previously been classified as a monotypic tribe Pantholopini and together with Saiga (Saiga tatarica) in a separate tribe Saigini.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-07-19
Assessor(s): IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group
Reviewer(s): Cooke, R.
Contributor(s): Mallon, D.
Justification:
Numbers and distribution of Chiru have both decreased sharply as a result of commercial hunting for the underfur in the 1980s-1990s, although rigorous protection has allowed the population to increase recently, possibly to double the size it was in the mid-1990s. The species was recently assessed as Near Threatened on the Chinese National Red List of Vertebrates. It is also assessed as Near Threatened here, because the current status can only be maintained with continued high levels of protection in its natural range and strict controls on trade and manufacture of the shawls made from its underfur: any relaxation in the protection regime are predicted to result in a rapid population decline due to commercial poaching at a rate meeting the threshold for a threatened category.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This antelope formerly ranged across the whole Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Almost its entire range lies within China. A small number occur seasonally in north-eastern Ladakh, in the extreme north of India and the species formerly occurred in a small area of northwest Nepal (Schaller 1977). Its range has decreased and it is now absent from most of the eastern plateau and from Nepal. The main stronghold of the species is in the Chang Tang area of north-western Tibet (Schaller 1998).
Countries occurrence:
Native:
China (Qinghai, Tibet [or Xizang], Xinjiang); India (Jammu-Kashmir)
Regionally extinct:
Nepal
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Numbers may have reached a historic high of perhaps one million but are far less now. The population underwent a severe decline in the 1980s and early 1990s as a result of commercial poaching for the valuable underfur, leading to an estimated 65,000-72,500 by the mid-1990s (Schaller 1998). Rigorous protection has been enforced since then. Leslie and Schaller (2008) suggested there may be 100,000. Feng (1999) estimated 100,000 to 120,000, while Xi and Wang (2004) estimated 150,000. Liu (2009) said the population had doubled since the mid-1990s (i.e. now ca 150,000). Densities of 0.03-9.21 individuals/km², with an average of 1.77/km² were reported by Leslie and Schaller (2008). The migratory nature and clumped distribution of the Tibetan Antelope complicate extrapolation and calculation of accurate population estimates, but all recent Chinese sources agree that the population has been increasing. The species was recently assessed as Near Threatened in the Chinese Red List of Vertebrates (Jiang et al. 2016).
Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:100000-150000Continuing decline of mature individuals:No
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Chiru inhabit high altitude plains, undulating hills, plateaux and montane valleys at elevations of 3,250-5,500 m, consisting of alpine and desert steppe and meadows, characterized by low vegetation cover and low primary productivity (Leslie and Schaller 2008). Most populations are highly migratory or nomadic (Schaller 1998, Schaller et al. 2006), moving up to 300-400 km between summer and winter ranges; others are nonmigratory or migrate over much shorter distances (Harris and Miller 1995, Leslie and Schaller 2008). Males and females are usually separate except for the mating period. Females congregate to give birth in traditional birthing grounds, some of which (e.g. Central Kunlun) have only recently been identified. The ecological parameters of these sites are not fully understood. In Chang Tang Nature Reserve, Chiru had a negative association with settlements and preferred areas with gentle slopes, moderate density of grazing livestock, villages only at lower elevations (Qi et al. 2015).
Systems:Terrestrial
Generation Length (years):6.1
Movement patterns:Unknown
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Chiru have long been hunted for their underfur - shahtoosh (Wright and Kumar 1997), which is renowned for its quality and which has traditionally been transported to Srinagar in Kashmir, where it is woven into an extremely fine fabric used to make shawls; a traditional wedding gift in India and Pakistan. However it takes 3-5 hides to make a single shawl, and the wool cannot be sheared or combed, so to collect the fur the animals have to be killed (Leslie and Schaller 2008). This hunting escalated to a commercial scale in the late 1980s and 1990s, when according to the Chinese government, about 20,000 Chirus were hunted annually, primarily for their shahtoosh. Strict controls were introduced in China in the early 1990s, and the trade was also banned in India. Trade has been severely curtailed, though not completely eliminated, due to high demand and high prices: within India, shawls are worth $1,000-$5,000, internationally the price can reach as high as $20,000. Horns of the males were traditionally used as gun rests, and to a limited extent in traditional Chinese medicine.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The prevalence and magnitude of commercial scale hunting of Chiru for shahtoosh in the late 1980s and 1990s led to a severe decline in numbers (Wright and Kumar 1997). Since, measures to restrict illegal hunting and smuggling of the product have become increasingly effective, however the demand still exists and maintaining strict controls on poaching, trade, and manufacture of the fabric are essential in ensuring the status of the species. Other important threats include expansion of livestock herding into remote and previously unused areas (Fox and Bårdsen 2005), for instance Chiru in the Chang Tang region now shares rangeland with >8 million livestock (Harris 2008); road building, facilitating the expansion of agriculture and illegal hunting (Yin et al. 2006); and fencing of pastures on the Tibetan plateau (Fox et al. 2009). Construction of the Beijing-Lhasa railway threatened to divide the Chiru's range but engineering measures, such as underpasses, have allowed the Chiru's migration to continue to some extent. Chiru are also vulnerable to severe winter conditions, especially heavy snow, which can confine populations to limited areas and can result in disproportionate death of young, subadults, and females, presumably from malnutrition (Leslie and Schaller 2008). An exceptional snowstorm in Qinghai in 1985 caused high mortality and led to their disappearance from some areas especially in the eastern part of their range (Schaller and Ren 1988).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Chiru is legally protected in China and India (Wright and Kumar 1997, Schaller 1998), but enforcement of the law over the vast area of its habitat has been problematic, although efforts have intensified since the early 1990s (Zhen 1999). Public awareness of the Chiru within China has increased, and some populations have begun to respond (Schaller et al. 2003). Chiru occur in Qiantang (300,000 km²), Kekexili (45,000 km²), Arjin Shan (45,000 km²), Sanjiangyuan (150,000 km²) National Nature Reserves and West Kunlun (30,000 km²) and Central Kunlun (32,000 km²) provincial nature reserves. This network of reserves is important to the Chiru due to its migratory behaviour, with about 75% of its migratory routes protected by this network. Since 2002, the International Fund for Animal Welfare has organized and sponsored an annual workshop for nature reserve staff and other officials from the three Chinese provinces where the majority of the population is concentrated (Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang).

The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES.

Chiru are virtually unknown in zoos, but young have been born and orphans have been reared successfully in a 200 ha fenced enclosure in native habitat (Leslie and Schaller 2008).

Citation: IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2016. Pantholops hodgsonii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T15967A50192544. . Downloaded on 06 December 2016.
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