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Tibetan Antelope Population Doubles in N Tibet

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The population of endangered Tibetan antelopes has doubled thanks to intensified preservation efforts in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, a local official said Thursday.

"More than 120,000 Tibetan antelopes are living in the wilderness of Nagqu Prefecture in northern Tibet, twice as many as reported in 2000," said Tan Yongshou, a senior official in Nagqu, at a regional meeting on Tibet's forestry in Lhasa.

He attributed the increase to the founding of 17 nature reserves, which make up 56 percent of Nagqu's territory, since 2000.

"These reserves cover an area of 236,000 square km and are home to nearly 500 wild animal species including antelopes, wild yaks, wild Tibetan donkeys and snow leopards -- 40 of which are under state protection," said Tan.

The population of wild yaks and donkeys had also increased by 50 percent, he said.

Besides the routine patrol of forestry workers, the local government has hired almost 5,000 volunteer rangers to help protect wildlife. "Poaching is strictly banned even if the animals cause damage to the local herders and farmers," Tan said.

The local government had paid more than 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) in compensation to cover their losses over the past decade, he said.

Nagqu Prefecture boasts 40 million hectares of pastureland and more than 4 million hectares of wetland, an ideal habitat for wild animals.

In Tibet there used to be millions of Tibetan antelopes, but excessive hunting and human encroachment on their habitat caused their population to plummet in past decades.

International traffickers hunted the antelopes to make shahtoosh shawls, a luxury item that required three to five pieces of antelope fur to make just one shawl.

Since 1979, the animal has been recognized as an endangered species and protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Tibet tightened supervision and patroling at the antelopes' habitat since 1998.

Tibetan antelopes are mostly found in Tibet, Qinghai Province and the western part of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

About 80 percent of the total live in northern Tibet, while the remaining 20 percent roam the Hoh Xil, China's largest uninhabited land in the neighboring Qinghai Province.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2010)