High Altitude Poaching

By Bryan • china, environment • 21 Mar 2006

Hundreds of Tibetans vowed not to use skins of endangered wildlife species and donated scores of ‘chubas’ (traditional Tibetan over coats) here on Tuesday as part of a special campaign to save wildlife.

This follows an appeal by the Dalai Lama. All donated illegal pelts and other endangered animal products will be placed inside a special stupa, a Buddhist religious monument, in McLeodganj.

Ms Tsering Yangkey, TEAM executive director, told The Tribune that Tibetans had been traditionally using tiger and snow leopard skin on their clothing but it was now the need of the hour to save these endangered species from extinction.

Not mentioned (although probably included) is the Tibetan Antelope. Commonly knowns as the Chiru, it is native to the Tibetan plateau including China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai province, and Xinjiang province; India near Ladakh and formerly western Nepal. The chiru produces the finest wool in the world — and a single pelt woven into a shawl can fetch up to $15,000 US dollars.

Naturally, the high market price of such a product creates a very lucrative poaching niche, and population numbers are estimated to have dropped to below 20,000.

I was completely unaware of this until a few days ago when I watched Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, a very good (yet sad) Chinese film that depicts the struggle between vigilante rangers and bands of poachers in the remote Qinghai region of Kekexili.

Despite being filmed in a realistic and somtimes amateur style, the film remains polished and is the recipient of a number of international film awards. Apparently the film had a large impact in China in bringing public attention the area and the situation of its inhabitants and endangered species. This led the Chinese government create protected regions and official wardens in an effort to curb illegal hunting and promote protection. The popularity of the film also played a large part in the proposal of the Tibetan antelope as a candidate for official mascot of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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3 Responses

  1. lurky

    I think the movie is REALLY good!Strong and grimly realistic.It reveals how people truthfully negotiate to life.Felt speechless when I watched it.Thanks to the movie, the situation of the region has been better. Hope people become more and more aware of the importance of nature protection.

  2. I’ve never heard of the film, although this (environmental destruction and it’s social consequences) is my area of study. I’ll have to check it out. I’m hoping to do my masters thesis this fall on something like this … perhaps this can help me out.

  3. Yeah, I recommend it. It is a fairly good example of a situation where economic deprivation is the cause of environmental degradation (in this case, wildlife population).

    Qinghai is one of the poorest provinces in China and currently has few economic opportunities. Tourism is bound to increase with the opening of the Xining-Lasa railline, yet I’ve noticed that tourism in China tends to favour traditional mass tourism with the majority of profits settling in Shanghai and other urban centers.

    It would be interesting to know the Antelope population prior to large scale poaching. If the population was managed properly and regulations enforced stringently, Antelope products could have at one point provided a lucrative and sustainable resource for local people.

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