[Federal Register: April 25, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 80)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 24171-24173]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding on 
Petition To List the Tibetan Antelope as Endangered Throughout Its 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
90-day finding that a petition to list the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops 
hodgsonii) as endangered throughout its range has presented substantial 
information indicating that the action may be warranted. A status 
review of the species is initiated.

DATES: This finding was made on April 14, 2000. Comments and 
information may be submitted until June 26, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Submit comments, information, and questions to the Chief, 
Office of Scientific Authority; Mail Stop: Room 750, Arlington Square; 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Washington,

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D.C. 20240 (Fax number: 703-358-2276; E-mail address: r9osa@fws.gov). 
Address express and messenger-delivered mail to the Office of 
Scientific Authority; Room 750, 4401 North Fairfax Drive; Arlington, 
Virginia 22203. You may inspect the petition finding, supporting data, 
and comments received, by appointment, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 
Monday through Friday, at the Arlington, Virginia, address.

Scientific Authority, at the above address (Telephone number: 703-358-
1708; E-mail address: r9osa@fws.gov).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973 as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires us to make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial information indicating that the requested action may be 
warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, we make this finding 
within 90 days following receipt of the petition, and we promptly 
publish a notice in the Federal Register. If the finding is positive, 
section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act also requires us to commence a status 
review of the species. We now announce a 90-day finding on a recently 
received petition.
    On October 6, 1999, the Service received a petition from the 
Wildlife Conservation Society (Joshua R. Ginsberg, Ph.D., Director, 
Asia Program, and George B. Schaller, Ph.D., Director of Science) and 
the Tibetan Plateau Project of Earth Island Institute (Mr. Justin Lowe, 
Director) requesting that the Tibetan antelope be listed as endangered 
throughout its entire range. Dr. Schaller is considered to be the 
world's leading expert on the Tibetan antelope. The Tibetan antelope is 
also known by its Tibetan name ``chiru.'' These two common names will 
be used interchangeably in this document.
    The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii; sensu Wilson and Reeder 
1993) is a medium-sized bovid endemic to the Tibetan Plateau in China 
(Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Xinjiang/Uygur Autonomous Region, and 
Qinghai Province) and small portions of India (Ladakh) and western 
Nepal (although no evidence exists that the species still occurs in 
Nepal). Adult males are characterized by long, slender, antelope-like 
black horns. Although the Tibetan antelope has been placed in the 
subfamily Antilopinae, recent morphological and molecular research 
indicate that the species is most closely allied to the goats and other 
members of the subfamily Caprinae (Gentry 1992, Gatesy et al. 1992; 
both cited in Ginsberg et al. 1999). The species is uniquely adapted to 
the high elevation and cold, dry climate of the Tibetan Plateau 
(Schaller 1998). The sexes segregate almost completely during the 
spring and early summer (May and June), when adult females and their 
female young migrate north to certain calving grounds and return south 
by late July or early August, covering distances as long as 300 
kilometers (186 miles) each way (Schaller 1998). Seasonal migrations by 
chiru constitute a critical aspect of the species' ecology and help 
define the ecosystem as a whole.
    There are no accurate estimates of Tibetan antelope numbers in the 
past, although the few early western explorers who ventured onto the 
Tibetan Plateau noted the presence of large herds in many areas 
(Bonvalot 1892, Deasy 1901, Hedin 1903, Hedin 1922, Rawling 1905, and 
Wellby 1898; all cited in Schaller 1998). Schaller (1999) suggested 
that upwards of 1 million Tibetan antelope roamed the Tibetan Plateau 
as recently as 40-50 years ago. Historical population estimates of 
500,000 to 1 million appear to be reasonable based on the limited 
information available.
    Although data on the current population dynamics of chiru are 
fragmentary and preliminary (Schaller 1998), it is clear that the total 
population has declined drastically in the past 30 years and is 
continuing to decline. Schaller (1998) estimated that the total 
population in the mid-1990's may have been as low as 65,000-75,000 
individuals. If one assumes that the historical population of chiru was 
500,000 individuals, the mid-1990's estimate represents a population 
decline of 85 percent. Although overall mortality rates are not known, 
poaching mortality has been estimated to be as high as 20,000 
individuals per year (SFA 1998). Annual recruitment of young has been 
estimated at around 12 percent, although recruitment failures have been 
documented in certain areas as a result of bad winter weather (Schaller 
1998). If one assumes that the total current population of chiru is 
75,000 individuals and that the population is currently declining at a 
rate of 1,000-3,000 individuals per year, then barring any changes, the 
species is likely to go functionally extinct within the next 25 to 75 
years. The species' role as the dominant, native, grazing herbivore of 
the Tibetan Plateau ecosystem has already been diminished, and its 
influence on ecosystem structure and function would likely be 
substantially reduced or eliminated well before the species actually 
goes extinct.
    Changes in Chinese Government policy have led to increasing human 
development and activity on the Tibetan Plateau, including road 
development, settlement by pastoralists, resource extraction 
activities, and rangeland use for domestic livestock grazing (Ginsberg 
et al. 1999). These activities have already adversely modified or 
destroyed Tibetan antelope habitat in some areas and threaten to modify 
or destroy habitat over a large area in the near future. However, 
Tibetan antelope populations are declining principally because large 
numbers of chiru are being killed illegally for their wool, known in 
trade as shahtoosh (``king of wool''), which is one of the finest 
animal fibers known (Ginsberg et al. 1999). In China, the chiru is a 
Class 1 protected species under the Law of the People's Republic of 
China on the Protection of Wildlife (1989); all killing of Class 1 
animals is prohibited except by special permit from the central 
    Most chiru poaching takes place in the Arjin Shan, Chang Tang, and 
Kekexili Nature Reserves in China by a variety of hunters, including 
local herders, residents, officials, military personnel, gold miners, 
and truck drivers (Schaller 1993, Schaller and Gu 1994). Organized, 
large-scale poaching rings have developed in some areas. Tibetan 
antelope are always killed to collect their fiber. No cases of capture-
and-release wool collection are known, nor is naturally-shed fiber 
collected from shrubs and grass tufts as is often stated (primarily by 
people within the shahtoosh industry). Hunters shear the hides and 
collect and clean the under-fur of the antelope, or sell the hides to 
dealers who prepare the shahtoosh (Wright and Kumar 1997).
    Shahtoosh is smuggled out of China by truck or animal caravan, 
through Nepal or India, and into the region of Jammu and Kashmir. This 
activity is in violation of the Convention on International Trade in 
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as Indian 
and Chinese law. In Jammu and Kashmir, shahtoosh is processed into 
expensive, high-fashion shawls and scarves which are greatly valued by 
some people from around the world, including the United States. To 
reach consumer markets, the shawls must be smuggled out of India and 
into the consumer countries, in violation of CITES and domestic laws of 
those countries. The international demand for chiru fiber and shahtoosh 
products is the most serious threat to

[[Page 24173]]

the continued existence of the Tibetan antelope.
    Schaller speculates that, during the 1980's and 1990's, tens of 
thousands of chiru were killed for their wool (Ginsberg et al. 1999). 
One chiru carcass yields about 125-150 grams (4-5 ounces) of fiber. In 
the winter of 1992, an estimated 2,000 kilograms (kg) (4,420 pounds) of 
wool reached India, and consignments of 600 kg (1,325 pounds) were 
seized (and released) in India during 1993 and 1994 (Bagla 1995, cited 
in Ginsberg et al. 1999). This amount alone represents 17,000 chiru. In 
October 1998, 14 poachers in the TAR were convicted of collectively 
killing 500 chiru and purchasing 212 hides, and were sentenced to 3 to 
13 years imprisonment (Xinhua 1998, cited in Ginsberg et al. 1999). The 
largest enforcement action to date within China, involving several 
jurisdictions and dubbed the ``Hoh Xil Number One Action'' by Chinese 
authorities, resulted in the arrest of 66 poachers and the confiscation 
of 1,658 chiru hides in April and May, 1999 (Liu 1999, cited in 
Ginsberg et al. 1999).
    Despite an Appendix-I listing under CITES, and protection by 
domestic legislation at the national level by China, Nepal, and India, 
existing regulatory mechanisms have been inadequate to prevent the 
poaching of Tibetan antelope or the international smuggling of raw 
shahtoosh and finished shahtoosh products.
    We find that the petition presents substantial information 
indicating that the requested action may be warranted. Specifically, 
substantial information indicates that the total population of Tibetan 
antelope has declined drastically over the last three decades, and that 
this decline has resulted primarily from overutilization for commercial 
purposes and inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. Habitat 
impacts, especially grazing of domestic livestock, appear to be a 
contributory factor in the decline, and could have potentially greater 
impacts in the near future.
    Pursuant to section 4(b)(3)(A), we hereby commence a review of the 
status of Pantholops hodgsonii. We encourage the submission of 
appropriate data, opinions, and publications regarding the subject 
petition or the status of the species. Our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review during regular business hours. Individual respondents 
may request that we withhold their home address from the rulemaking 
record, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. In some 
circumstances, we may also withhold from the rulemaking record a 
respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish for us to 
withhold your name and/or address, you must state this prominently at 
the beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous 
comments. We will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety.
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires that we make a finding 
within 12 months of receipt of the petition as to whether the listing 
of P. hodgsonii as threatened or endangered is warranted.

References Cited

    You may request a complete list of references cited in this Notice 
from the Office of Scientific Authority (see ADDRESSES section).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: April 14, 2000
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
[FR Doc. 00-10265 Filed 4-24-00; 8:45 am]