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October 23, 2009

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Tibetan antelope refuge success

ANIMAL protection authorities in northwest China's Qinghai Province yesterday destroyed 2,282 Tibetan antelope hides confiscated from poachers to show their resolve in combating the killing of the rare species.

"The hides were seized from poachers over the past 10 years," said Cedain Zhou, director of the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve Administration. "We want to show our unswerving attitude against poaching."

He said the move was the largest of its kind since 1998 when China began coming down hard on armed poachers in the region. Over the past decade, more than 4,000 Tibetan antelope skins have been confiscated by the administration.

Tibetan antelopes are targeted by poachers because they produce the finest wool in the world, known as shahtoosh, a Persian word meaning "king of wool."

Each hair of the Tibetan antelope is around six times thinner than the average human hair. A shahtoosh shawl, extremely lightweight and warm, requires the wool from three to four antelopes and may fetch up to US$11,000 on the global market.

Beginning in the late 1980s, shahtoosh shawls became high fashion in Europe and the United States, which fueled a black market and led to a slump in the population of Tibetan antelopes from 200,000 to 20,000 in 1997.

To curb the rampant slaughter of Tibetan antelopes and save them from extinction, the Chinese government set up the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve in 1995 and upgraded it to a state-listed reserve in 1997.

The reserve, in the hinterlands of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, covers 45,000-square kilometers and lies at an average altitude of 4,600 meters.

Thanks to the country's anti-poaching efforts, no armed poaching has been reported since 2006 in Hoh Xil, and the population of Tibetan antelope in this region has grown to around 60,000, Cedain Zhou said.


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