Class One Protected Species under China's national legislation , CITES Appendix I. It is mainly distributed in Chang Tang, and at least three migratory populations inhabit a range extending from east to west. Each summer, female antelopes gather together in huge herds and migrate 200 to300 km to particular regions for breeding.
Tibetan antelope, or chiru, live in one of the most inhospitable places on earth – the high mountain steppes and semi-desert of the Tibetan Plateau. Because of their frigid alpine environment, the chiru produce the finest and most expensive wool in the world, shahtoosh. Unfortunately, the very quality that makes the chiru irreplaceable also threatened its existence, as rising demand for shahtoosh by the fashion industry led to an alarming increase in chiru poaching, reducing the chiru population, once estimated to number more than million, to approximately 70,000 animals.
Through a series of wildlife surveys conducted in the 1980s, WCS senior conservationist George Schaller brought attention to the plight of chiru and other wildlife of the Tibetan plateau, and was instrumental in the creation of the Changtang National Nature Reserve, the second largest terrestrial nature reserve in the world. Subsequent surveys and lobbying efforts by WCS in collaboration with local government agencies resulted in the designation of the West Kunlun and Shor Kul Tibet Antelope Nature Reserves, protecting additional chiru habitat and newly discovered sensitive calving grounds. However, even within protected areas, threats to chiru remain.
Like other ungulates of the Tibetan plateau, chiru are threatened by multiple factors, including a dearth of knowledge of their basic biology, continued poaching for their wool, competition with domestic livestock herds, and fragmentation of their habitat by the establishment of long fences to contain domestic livestock.
To alleviate these threats, WCS has been working in the field to improve our limited knowledge of chiru conservation needs, increase local capacity, and support local anti-poaching efforts. WCS worked with the Patagonia Company to publicize how the use of shatoosh by the fashion industry threatened the survival of chiru, constructed guard posts, and increased anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring capacity. In partnership with local government agencies, WCS undertook wildlife surveys in the region to develop a better understanding of chiru biology and migratory behavior, information that will be used to evaluate whether the current system of protected areas is sufficient to protect habitat critical to support the chiru’s life history requirements. Results from the most recent surveys suggest these efforts have reduced poaching pressure, allowing chiru numbers to increase to over 120,000 individuals. WCS continues to work with Tibetan authorities to develop a comprehensive management plan for the region to help preserve the Tibetan antelope and its high-elevation home.