Tibetan antelopes: endangered no more

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China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration has announced that Tibetan antelopes are no longer on the country’s list of endangered species. Thanks to efforts made to protect the animal over the past 40 years, the number of Tibetan antelopes has risen from less than 75,000 in the 1980s to around 300,000 today.

Despite the good news, the organization has made clear the removal of antelopes from the list does not mean that regulations on protecting the animal will be scrapped. According to Chinese law, the illegal hunting, acquisition, purchase, transport and sale of rare and endangered wild animals and their products are all illegal.

Over a century ago, Tibetan antelopes were active on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and numbered in their millions. Currently, the habitat of antelopes worldwide is about one million square kilometers, and 95 percent of the species live within China’s borders.

Poaching was a widespread threat for Tibetan antelopes in the late 20th and early 21st century. In 1995, there were an estimated 75,000 antelopes in China. The 2003 White Paper on the status of Tibetan antelope conservation issued by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration pointed out that each year, the average number of Tibetan antelopes being poached had reached 20,000.

After China joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981, the country’s law prohibited all trade or export of antelopes and their products. In 1988, the Wildlife Protection Law was published which made antelopes a national first-class protected species. Later, both the Constitutional Law and Criminal Law stipulated the consequences for violations.

Eight Tibetan antelope nature reserves have also been established in Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang. Regular patrols are conducted by special teams located in these reserves, with activities taking place in the reserve kept under close watch. Ahead of the mating and migrating seasons, the teams will carry out mountain patrols close to the migration routes. When the Qinghai-Tibet railways were under construction, measures such as temporary traffic controls, a ban on whistling, and frequent patrols were adopted to ensure antelopes’ migration patterns would not be disturbed.

However, experts warn that antelopes are still facing various threats, including food shortages due to frequent natural disasters in their habitats, infectious diseases from local livestock and declining genetic diversity due to a lack of interaction between different antelope populations. Actions to protect antelopes cannot stop here.