Book Review: The Chiru of High Tibet, Story of the Tibetan Antelope by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

by DerdriuMarriner

Jacqueline Briggs Martin describes four mountaineers' and one scientist's finding the Tibetan antelope's remote calving grounds in The Chiru of High Tibet.

Tibetan antelopes are like wild goats and sheep

The chiru of high Tibet are Tibetan antelopes that relate closely to wild goats and sheep and that reside on cold, flat, open, under-vegetated alpine and steppe habitats 10,660 to 18,040 feet (3,249.17 to 5,498.59 meters) above sea level in:
• Ladakh, India;
• southern Xinjiang and western Qinghai, China; and
• Tibet.

They busy themselves:
• consuming forbs, grasses, and sedges;
• fleeing lynxes, red foxes, snow leopards, and wolves; and
• mating in November and December.

They converge in:
• harems of 4 to 12 females per male;
• herds of 20 within seasonal pastures and 100+ for summer to winter nomadism and vice versa; and
• hordes of females round-tripping 190 miles (305.78 kilometers) to deliver one calf each in June or July.




Geographic distribution of chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii)

Made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data @
Made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data @

Tibetan antelopes grow beautiful horns as one-year-old males


Scientists describe chiru -- whose Linnaean taxonomy honors British naturalist and surgeon Clarke Abel's (September 5, 1789 - November 24, 1826) Nepali specimen examinations in 1826 -- as having: 

  • big eyes; 
  • dark noses; 
  • fawn to red-brown bodies; 
  • short-pointed, wide-spaced ears; and 
  • white bellies. 

They expect ten-year life cycles and natural histories of: 

  • mobility 15 minutes after birth; and 
  • physical and sexual maturity at 15 and 24 to 36 months. 

They find for adult females and males: 

  • shoulder heights of 29 (73.66) and 33 inches (83.82 centimeters); 
  • tails 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) long; and 
  • weights of 57 (25.85) and 86 pounds (39.01 kilograms).

Males -- whose legs are black-striped -- gain independence once horns emerge at 12 months.


The Chiru (Pantholops Hodgsoni)

illustration by Joseph Wolf (January 21, 1820 – April 20, 1899) ; lithography by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929); printing by Hanhart
Philip Sclater and Oldfield Thomas, The Book of Antelopes, Vol. III (1897-98), Pl. L, opp. p. 45
Philip Sclater and Oldfield Thomas, The Book of Antelopes, Vol. III (1897-98), Pl. L, opp. p. 45

Tibetan antelopes make money for doctors, hunters, weavers


Chiru horns -- which mature within 2.5 years to blackened, ring-ridged, smooth-tipped vertical growths of 21 to 24 inches (53.34 to 60.96 centimeters) -- have healing properties in nomadic folklore. The world's costliest, finest, warmest wool is woven into shahtoosh (king of wools) shawls from both the female's and male's coarse, long, guard hairs and short-fibered, silky undercoats. Trophy horns and wool coats in fact join body parts for traditional medicine as reasons why hunters find killing chiru lucrative. Scientists know that such uncontrolled kills are responsible for chiru populations declining from 1,000,000 around 1900 to 74,000+ around 2000.

Critical endangerment inexorably leads to extinction without:

  • environmental education;
  • financial support;
  • habitat sustainability;
  • legislative action; and
  • scientific research. 


Unlike sheep, chiru cannot be sheared. So they are killed for their wool, which is woven into the luxury fabric shahtoosh.

LaVonda Walton/US Fish and Wildlife Service
LaVonda Walton/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tibetan antelopes relish protection on Chang Tang Reserve


Two events maximize sustainability: 

  • Conrad Anker's, Jimmy Chin's, Rick Ridgeway's, and Galen Rowell's 16-day, 275-mile (442.57-kilometer) trek pulling four aluminum 250-pound (113.39-kilogram) carts northward into Kunlun Mountain calving grounds beyond the Gorge of Despair; and
  • Dr. George B. Schaller's activism for Chang Tang Nature Reserve. 

Chinese-built railways contrastingly nudge counter-sustainability. Thirty-three animal migration passages built beneath the railway offer access to chiru homelands.

Since 2010, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children's The Chiru of High Tibet provides kindergarteners to third-graders aged 4 to 8 culturally enriching, educationally entertaining insights into four mountaineers, one scientist, and 74,000+ chiru, through: 

  • Stephanie Cooper's mapmaking; 
  • Jacqueline Briggs Martin's writing; and 
  • Galen Rowell's and Kay Schaller's picture-taking; and
  • Linda S. Wingerter's acrylic illustrating. 


Dr. George Schaller giving lecture at Beijing Zoo, August 10, 2005:

he holds a wireless device which is to be attached to a chiru's neck.
Beijing, northeastern China
Beijing, northeastern China



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


"Head of chiru antelope, the unicorn of Tibet":

sketch by Lieut. H. Maxwell of Bengal Artillery from a pair brought to Dorjiling (Darjeeling), West Bengal, northeastern India
(Sir) Joseph Dalton Hooker, Himalayan Journals, Vol. II (1854), p. 158
(Sir) Joseph Dalton Hooker, Himalayan Journals, Vol. II (1854), p. 158

Sources Consulted


Blanford, William Thomas. 1879. Scientific Results of the Second Yarkand Mission: Based Upon the Collections and Notes of the Late Ferdinand Stolickza, PhD: Mammalia. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: 

Hooker, Joseph Dalton (Sir). 1854. Himalayan Journals; or, Notes of a Naturalist in Bengal, the Sikkim and Nepal Himalayas, the Khasia Mountains, etc. With Maps and Illustrations. In two volumes. Vol. II. London: John Murray.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: 

Hunter, Sir William Wilson. 1896. Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson, British Resident at the Court of Nepal, Member of the Institute of France; Fellow of the Royal Society; A Vice-President of the Royal Asiatic Society, etc. London: John Murray.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Ingersoll, Ernest. 1906. The Life of Animals: The Mammals. With fifteen full-page color plates and many other illustrations. New York: The Macmillan Company.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. 2010. The Chiru of High Tibet: a True Story. Illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 

Sclater, Philip Lutley, and Oldfield Thomas. 1897 - 1898. The Book of Antelopes. In four volumes (1894 - 1900). Vol. III. London: R.H. Porter.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:


Chiru: Tibetan antelope in a snow storm

Tibetan antelope in a snow storm
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Chiru of High Tibet: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chiru, small, antelope-type animals living in Tibet's mountains, have wool prized for warmth, super-softness, and strength. But chiru cannot be sheared like sheep. Obtaining their expensive skins means killing them, a practice which has endangered them.
Chiru biographies

Chiru: Available via AllPosters

from ca. 1840 watercolor and gouache commissioned by Brian Houghton Hodgson (ca. 1800/1801 - May 23, 1894) and held in collection of Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Chiru, 1840

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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