The U.S. government recommended listing the Tibetan antelope, called chiru, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The listing was made in response to a petition filed by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Tibetan Plateau Project.

The recent recommendation by the U.S. government’s Fish and Wildlife Service will trigger interstate commerce clauses that would make it illegal to sell Shatoosh, the wool of the chiru, across state lines. It may also allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide funds to China for conservation programs, but it is unclear whether that will happen.

The Tibetan antelope was listed as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1975. In 1979 all international trade in chiru parts and derivatives became illegal. The species is currently listed as “Vulnerable” in the 1996 International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals.

News Release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

In response to a petition submitted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Tibetan Plateau Project of the Earth Island Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that listing the Tibetan antelope as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act is warranted and published a listing proposal in yesterday’s Federal Register.

Tibetan antelope or “chiru,” is native to the Tibetan Plateau in China as well as small areas of northern India and western Nepal. As recently as 40 to 50 years ago, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tibetan antelope may have roamed the Plateau. Today its numbers have declined precipitously and could be as low as 65,000- 75,000 individuals.

Tibetan antelope populations are declining principally because large numbers of animals are being killed illegally for their wool, known in the international marketplace as “shahtoosh” or “king of wool.” Shahtoosh is considered to be one of the finest animal fibers in the world and, since the 1980’s, expensive shahtoosh shawls and scarves have become high fashion status symbols in the west. This international commercial demand for shahtoosh has, in turn, brought about sharply increased poaching and fuels a lucrative illegal trade which continues to thrive despite conservation and enforcement efforts by the Chinese government. Tibetan antelope are always killed to collect their wool. No cases of capture-and-release wool collection are known, nor is naturally-shed wool collected from shrubs and grass tufts for use as is often erroneously stated, primarily by people within the shahtoosh trade. Wool is smuggled from China to the states of Jammu and Kashmir in India, where it is woven into expensive high-fashion shawls and scarves and subsequently exported illegally to the principal markets in the U.S. and Europe.

Since 1979, international commerce in shahtoosh and shahtoosh products has been prohibited by virtue of the species’ listing in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an agreement which regulates global trade in animals and plants. It is illegal to commercially import shahtoosh products into the United States. Listing the Tibetan antelope under the Act would prohibit the sale or offering for sale of shahtoosh products in interstate or foreign commerce. This would give U. S. prosecutors additional means of fighting shahtoosh smuggling and the illegal market within the United States.

Habitat impacts, especially grazing for domestic livestock, also appear to be contributing to population declines, and could have potentially greater effect in the near future. For information concerning U.S. laws protecting the Tibetan antelope, visit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s homepage – www.fws.gov – and go to “conservation issues.” You can download a copy of the October 6, 2003 Federal Register Notice by visiting our international affairs homepage – www.international.fws.gov.

Comments, information, and questions may be submitted until January 5, 2004 either by mail to the Chief, Office of Scientific Authority; Mail Stop: Room 750, Arlington Square, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC 20240; by fax to 703-358- 2276; or by e-mail to Scientificauthority@fws.gov. Public hearing requests must be received by November 20, 2003.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries.