BEST SEEN AT: Chang Chenmo Valley, Ladakh
STATUS: Schedule I, Endangered
GOOD TO KNOW: The chiru can survive in temperatures up to -40 degrees. In summers, females travel hundreds of miles to ‘calving grounds’ to give birth
STRICTLY SPEAKING, the chiru, or the Tibetan antelope, is not very ‘Indian’ — its main stronghold is the remote Chang Tang area of north-western Tibet. About 500 of them migrate to northeast Ladakh every year. To survive harsh winters nature has endowed the chiru with a thick coat — which has become a curse for this endangered antelope poached for its wool. Shahtoosh, Persian for ‘king of wool’ has been sought after since ancient times for its warm, luxurious feel and fine texture (famously fine enough to pass through a ring). Though trade is banned, Shahtoosh shawls continue to be in demand.
Renowned wildlife biologist Dr George Schaller equals the shawl to a shroud — each shawl requires 3 to 5 chirus to be killed. Chiru numbers have declined by about 90 per cent since the turn of the 19th century to about 75,000 today. The chiru is a hardy creature but how long will it survive the onslaught and vanity of mankind is the question.
Prerna Singh Bindra