Fencing Spells Disaster for the Last of China's Przewalski's Gazelles

China’s only endemic antelope, the Przewalski’s gazelle Procapra przewalskii, is in imminent peril as less than 300 animals remain...

Less than 300 Przewalski's gazelles (Procapra przewalskii) have to compete with over 3 million livestock and the dangers of numerous fences.

The SSC Sir Peter Scott Fund for Conservation Action has supported a population and habitat survey undertaken by Dr Zhigang Jiang of the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group. The study aims to identify the reasons for its decline and the conservation measures needed to save it.

Historically, Przewalski’s gazelle was found in three regions in north-west China, but today has been reduced to just one, the steppes and stabilized sand dunes around Qinghai Lake. It occurs in six isolated, fragmented sub-populations which continue to decline. It is classified as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and with no captive breeding population, extinction is a real possibility.

The area inhabited by the gazelle is heavily grazed by sheep and the introduction of extensive fencing in 1994 has had a very detrimental impact. “Less than 300 gazelles have to compete with over 3 million livestock” said Dr Jiang, “and fencing has made things a lot worse” he added.

In two intensively studied sub-populations, the area occupied has decreased to only 20% and 6% of the region inhabited 10 years ago. The study aimed to identify the specific reasons why stock fencing was having such a negative effect and propose measures to help the gazelle.

Results of the study confirm that fencing is responsible for the declines both directly and indirectly.

Overall habitat quality is low in most areas because fencing has encouraged a stocking density 50% above the grasslands carrying capacity, and sward productivity has gone down by 34% in the past two decades.

Fencing is physically preventing the gazelles moving within their historical range. Animals can clear fences of 0.8-0.9m but most fences are at least 1m and can be up to 1.5m. Totally enclosed high fenced areas are inaccessible to them. Gazelles shun small enclosures and tend only to use large enclosures, so some areas are now completely unsuitable for the species.

One of the most distressing aspects is that fencing directly kills animals as they can become entangled in the wires when trying to jump over them.

From the results of this study, it is clear that the survival of Przewalski’s gazelle depends on appropriate action being taken immediately. The report recommends a series of conservation measures based on its findings and the proposals of the 2004 International Workshop on Saving the Przewalski’s gazelle. These include:

* Decrease fence heights to 0.8m or less.
* Reduce fencing density by removing fencing in densely fenced areas.
* Convert at least some enclosed paddocks to unenclosed ones.
* Establish at least one reserve area devoted to Przewalski’s gazelle conservation with the creation of corridors to allow movement between isolated sub-populations.

But conservation action must be undertaken swiftly, before it is too late to reverse these declines.

For more information, please contact:

Andrew McMullin, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer:
Tel: +41 (0)22 999 0153
Email: mcmullinaiucn.org

IUCN Antelope Specialist Group

Sir Peter Scott Fund for Conservation Action

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