Genetic diversity of the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) population of Ladakh, India, its relationship with other populations and conservation implications

The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), or chiru, is an endangered antelope, distributed in China [Xinjiang, Xizang, Qinghai, Zhuolaihu Lake (Breeding habitat)], and India (Aksai Chin and Ladakh). There is a global demand for the species prized wool, which is used in weaving shahtoosh shawls. Over the years, the population of the Tibetan antelope has drastically declined from more than a million to a few thousand individuals, mainly due to poaching. Field studies undertaken in Ladakh, India also indicated winter migration of the population to Tibet. Migration between winter and calving habitats is well established to be female-biased across the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau (QTP). For effective conservation planning, genetic characterization is considered the best way to understand the likely impact of threats for ensuring the long-term viability of the population. In this regard, genetic characteristics of all Chinese populations are well-studied using mitochondrial and microsatellite markers, but information is lacking for the Indian population. Therefore, using the control region marker, we document for the first time the genetic variation of the Indian population of the Tibetan antelope, the extent of migration and its relationships with other populations of China.

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