Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii)
Order: Artiodactyla, Family: Bovidae
The Tibetan antelope, or Chiru, is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. It is found between Ngoring Hu in China and the Ladakh region in India. Its range once extended to western Nepal, but none have been seen in Nepal for several years.
I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
II. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
- The Tibetan antelope, or Chiru, is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. It is found between Ngoring Hu in China and the Ladakh region in India. Its range once extended to western Nepal, but none have been seen in Nepal for several years.
III. FOOD HABITS
- Mass: 26 to 40 kg.
- Adult Tibetan antelopes range in size from 35-50 inches in height.
- Adult males develop long, straight horns up to 23 inches in length, while females do not have horns.
- Tibetan antelope coat coloration varies from beige and grayish to whitish, with black markings on the face and legs.
- The Tibetan antelope is considered a grazer and possibly a browser; however, there is little information on their diet.
- Conception among females begins at 1.5-2.5 years of age. The gestation period lasts between 7-8 months, at which time the female gives birth to a single calf, usually after mid-June to early July.
- Mortality among young is high. Within the first two months of birth, up to half of Tibetan antelope young die and two-thirds die before they reach their second year.
- Young males stay with their mother for one year, at which time they leave and join with other males. Female young typically stay with their mother well after their first year and accompany them during migration to the calving grounds to the north.
- During the mating season, males attempt to form harems of 10 to 20 females. When a female approaches a male, the male prances around her with his head held high. If the female does not flee, the male then mates with her. After mating, females leave the males, and there is no apparent bond between sexes.
- Although apparently non-territorial, males violently defend their harem against competing males.
- Movement patterns among populations and even sexes vary depending upon the season. Males and females congregate along wintering grounds during the rut. In spring, some females remain on winter grounds, but most females (and their female offspring if they have one) migrate north to summer calving grounds, where they remain until late July or early August. The movement of males is characterized by two types of patterns: some remain in the wintering grounds as resident populations while others disperse along the Plateau to summer ranges. As a result of this seasonal movement, herd sizes vary in number, from as little as 5 to nearly 1000 individuals.
- When resting, Tibetan antelopes often dig bowl-shaped depressions in sandy and silty soil approximately 45 inches in diameter and 6-12 inches deep. Although the function of these depressions is not entirely known, some suggest that the depressions act to conceal the antelopes from oestrid flies.
- Tibetan antelopes are good runners and can move as fast as 50 mph.
VII. ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE FOR HUMANS
- Tibetan antelopes are most often found along the alpine steppe in northwest Tibet and China, where annual precipitation is less than 16 inches and elevations are between 13,000-18,000 feet. Chiru prefer flat or gently rolling topography, but are also known to inhabit high rounded hills and mountains.
The wool, called shahtoosh, is very valuable.
- Although the data on population dynamics is incomplete, it is clear that the total population has declined during the past 30 years. According to the IUCN, population estimates between 1950-1960 ranged from 500,000 to 1 million individuals; however, a population study conducted in 1993 revealed a population size of slightly greater than 100,000. Today the estimated total population is less than 75,000 individuals.
- There are a number of reasons for the decline of the Tibetan antelope. According to the 2000 Federal Register, one cause of population decline may be due to loss of habitat from increased human activity in the Tibetan Plateau, such as infrastructure development, pastoral settlements, rangeland conversion for livestock grazing and natural resource extraction.
- A second reason for declines in Tibetan antelope populations can be attributed to adverse weather. The Tibetan Plateau is an extreme landscape characterized by harsh weather, which can lead to starvation among Tibetan antelope populations. Those most adversely affected by this weather are females and young, presumably because they are smaller and more susceptible to the cold and lack of food resources.
- The most serious threat to the Tibetan antelope is poaching. According to the 2000 Federal Register, approximately 20,000 males, females, and young are killed each year by poachers who value Tibetan antelopes for their wool, known in international markets as shahtoosh (meaning "from nature and fit for a king"). Shahtoosh fibers are extremely fine (one-fifth that of human hair) and are considered the softest and warmest wool in the world.