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Last updated date: 09th Apr 2024
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What is Chiru?

Chiru (or Pantholops hodgsonii or chiru goat) is also referred to as Tibetan antelope. It is a sociable, tiny, graceful antelope-like animal that lives on the Tibetan Plateau's high alpine steppes and belongs to the Bovidae family (the Artiodactyla order). Male chiru carries thin longhorns, which curve slightly forward, and females are hornless. On every side of the blunt muzzle are two small bulges that have air sacs used in vocalization.

Classification of Chiru Animal

The Tibetan antelope or the chiru antelope or chiru tibetan antelope is the only member of the Pantholops genus, which is called after the Greek word meaning "all antelope." Formerly, it was classified in the Antilopinae subfamily, but, morphological and molecular data led to it being assigned to its own subfamily, Pantholopinae, which is closely related to goat-antelopes in the Caprinae subfamily. However, this has been disputed, and a few authors consider the Tibetan antelope to be the Caprinae's true member.

Although currently, the genus Pantholops is a fossil species, monotypic P. hundesiensis is known from Tibet's Pleistocene. Slightly, it was smaller compared to the living species, having a narrower skull. In addition, the fossil genus Qurliqnoria, from China's Miocene, is thought to be a Pantholopinae's early member, which diverged from the goat-antelopes around this particular time.


Tibetan antelope or the chiru antelope feed on grasses, forbs, and sedges, often digging via snow to obtain food in winter. Lynx, wolves, and snow leopards are natural predators, while red foxes are known to prey on young calves.

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Chiru tibetan antelope are defined as gregarious, at times congregating in herds hundreds strong when moving between winter and summer pastures, although, usually, they are found more in very smaller groups, with not more than 20 individuals. The female chiru migrates up to 300 km (190 miles) yearly to calving grounds in the summer, where usually, they give birth to a single calf and will rejoin the males at the wintering grounds during late autumn.


The Tibetan antelope seems to be a medium-sized antelope, having a shoulder height of around 83 cm (33 in) in males and 74 cm (29 in) in females. Males are significantly larger compared to females, weighing up to 39 kg (86 lb), than with 26 kg (57 lb), and may also be readily differentiated by the presence of black stripes on the legs and horns, both of which the female's lack. The coat is the pale fawn to reddish-brown, having a whitish belly, and is specifically thick and woolly. The face is almost black, with prominent nasal swellings, which hold a paler color in males.

In general, male colouring intensifies during the annual rut, with the coat becoming lighter, almost white, and the darker markings on the legs and face standing out.

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The males contain long, curved-back horns, which typically measure 54 to 60 cm (21 to 24 inches) in length. The horns are slender, having ring-like ridges on their lower portions and pointed smooth tips. Although relatively, the horns are uniform in length, there is a bit of variation in their exact shape, so the distance between the tips may be quite variable, ranging from 19 - 46 cm (7.5 - 18.1 inches). Unlike caprines, the horns do not grow throughout their life. The ears are pointed and short, and also the tail is relatively short, at around 13 cm (5.1 inches) in length.

Tibetan antelopes have a characteristic coat with long guard hairs and a silky undercoat of shorter fibres. The individual guard hairs are very thick than those of the other goats, with unusually thin walls, and hold a unique pattern of cuticular scales, said to resemble the benzene ring's shape.


The rutting season usually lasts from the months of November to December. Males form harems of up to 12 females, although 1 - 4 is quite common, and drive off the other males majorly by making the displays or chasing them with head down, rather than directly sparring with their horns. Mating and courtship are both briefs, typically without most of the behavior seen in the other antelope species, although males do commonly skim the female thighs with a kick of their forelegs.

Mothers give birth to the single calf in the month, either June or July, after a gestation period of about 6 months. The calves are given as precocial, being able to stand within 15 minutes of birth. They are grown fully within 15 months and reach sexual maturity during their second or third year. Although females can remain with their mothers until they themselves give birth, males leave within 12 months, by which time their horns begin to grow. Males determine the status by their relative horn length, having the maximum length being achieved at approximately three and a half years of age.

Although the longevity of Tibetan antelopes is unknown, given that some have been kept in captivity, it is estimated to be up to ten years.

Distribution and Habitat

The Tibetan antelope is found in the cold steppe and open alpine settings between 3,250 and 5,500 metres (10,660 and 18,040 feet) elevation on the Tibetan Plateau. They prefer an open terrain and flat with sparse vegetation cover. Almost all of them are found entirely in China, in southern Xinjiang, Tibet, and western Qinghai; a few are also found in India's Ladakh region.

The westernmost population of the Tibetan antelope is in Depsang Plains, where they can be found at altitudes of around 5500m. Nowadays, the majority are found within the ChangTang Nature Reserve of northern Tibet. To be described, the first specimens in 1826 were from Nepal; apparently, the species has since been extirpated from the region, and subspecies are recognized. Zhuonai Lake in Hoh Xil is called a calving ground for the Tibetan antelope.

The retention of the fetal version of haemoglobin in adult animals, which gives increased oxygen affinity, is a unique species' adaptation to its high altitude habitat. The Tibetan antelope is given as the only species of mammal where this particular adaptation has been documented.


Since 1979, Tibetan antelope has been on protection under the group CITES, which is known as Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species. Harming, trading, or killing of animals is illegal across the world, as 160 plus countries are CITES signatories. Also, it used to be listed as Endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and World Conservation Union because of commercial poaching for their underwool, competition with the local domesticated herds, and their rangeland development for gold mining.

The underfur of Tibetan antelopes (down hair), which is exceedingly fine, velvety, and warm, is known as shahtoosh and has traditionally been fashioned into shawls in higher demand in India as dowry for girls and in Europe as a symbol of status and riches by artisans and women in Kashmir. In the second part of the twentieth century, such demands led to widespread unlawful poaching. As a result, the population of this species has plummeted from around a million at the start of the twentieth century to under 75,000 in the 1990s.

Despite being impacted by poaching in the past, it is currently among the best-protected animals on the Tibetan Plateau, thanks to the Chinese government's extensive conservation efforts since the late 1990s. A 2009 assessment has estimated an increased population of up to 150,000. In the 2004 film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, the effort to suppress illicit antelope shooting was depicted. And, in September 2016, Tibetan antelope has been re-classified on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list from Endangered to Near Threatened because of the increased population.

To develop the shahtoosh testing, a senior forensic specialist and Hong Kong chemist looked at the material with the help of a microscope. Using this particular method, they have discovered that shahtoosh contains coarser guard hairs which are unique to the species. By performing this, the duo had found a convenient way to prove that, for sure, this was poached material.

The Chinese government opened a new railway in July 2006 that bisects the chiru feeding grounds on its approach to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. In an effort to avoid any harm to the animal, 33 special animal migration passages have been built beneath the railway. However, the railway will bring a larger number of people, especially potential poachers, closer to Tibetan antelope breeding sites and habitat.

The Wall Street Journal Online reported on February 22, 2008, that China's state-run news agency, Xinhua, had made a public apology for releasing a doctored photograph of Tibetan antelope running near the Qinghai-Tibet railway. The work's author has been identified as Liu Weiqing, a 41-year-old photographer. In addition, he was said to have camped on the Tibetan plateau since March 2007 as part of a series by the Daqing Evening News to raise awareness of the Tibetan bovid. He also has a deal with Xinhua to provide images.

Since then, he has resigned from the Daqing Evening News. Despite the impression, which is given by the faked photo, the antelope are getting used to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, as per the letter to Nature on 17 Apr 2008, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers.

It is categorised as an endangered species in Pakistan-administered Kashmir's Karakoram area.

Chiru Preservation

This species is listed in Appendix I of CITES and does not permit commercial trade. And, chiru is listed in the IUCN Red List of the Threatened Species, and chiru is not included in the KMV annexes. However, it is included as the priority species in the CAIM Program of Work (WP) and Central Asian Mammal Initiative (CAIM), which was adopted in 2014. The PR recommends the priority actions for the Tibetan Plateau: develop a comprehensive action plan for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau's ungulates; combating poaching; a collection of data on the migration and distribution of species; coordination of the cross-border activities. Adopted the CMS Infrastructure Guidelines also proposes the solutions to mitigate impacts of linear infrastructure on the migratory animals in the Central Asia region, including chiru.

FAQs on Chiru

1. How Does Chiru Feed?

Answer: Chiru feeds on the low alpine grasses, shrubs, and forbs. They will have to excavate these from the snow. They are preyed upon by wolves, lynxes, and snow leopards. Several chirus starve to death after any sudden high snowfalls and die from low temperatures. In both winter and summer, there is higher mortality among the young, including among males than with females. The maximum age that is reached by adults appears to be below 10 years.

2. How is Chiru Poached?

Answer: Numerous chiru is poached for their fine wool that is smuggled into India and then made into shawls and scarves that fetch exorbitant prices in the affluent countries. Despite the protective measures' enactment, the future of this species is more uncertain, as once, the abundant herds have shrunk rapidly and severely.

3. Where Does a Chiru Animal Live?

Answer: If we guessed that chiru animal lives in Tibet because they are also called Tibetan antelope, we are right! Chiru lives in Asia, in a place known as the Tibetan Plateau, which is an area of high, flat ground. This plateau is very high, and we can find chiru in the valleys, mountains, and plains around it.

Also, they used to live all over the plateau, but now they only live in the northwestern section. Chiru mainly does travel a lot during the year, and they can cover very long distances between the cold and hot months as they travel to find food and stay warm.

4. Give the Physical Description of Chiru?

Answer: Chiru animal looks like African antelope, except for huge horns on the male ones. To blend in better with the brown and grey slopes where they reside, their rumps and undersides are pale yellow or white, while their backs and sides are a tawny brown or light grey.

Their heads are predominately brown, but the male ones tend to sport a face of dark brown to black. Females do not grow horns and have dark faces.