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9 October 2008 Pantholops Hodgsonii (Artiodactyla: Bovidae)
David M. Leslie, George B. Schaller
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Pantholops hodgsonii (Abel, 1826) is a bovid commonly called the chiru or Tibetan antelope. Pantholops is monotypic. This species inhabits high-elevation alpine and desert steppe with flat to rolling terrain in the Tibetan Plateau and only recently has been studied in any detail. At least 5 populations of P. hodgsonii are migratory, some moving up to 300–400 km; others are nonmigratory. This species is endangered because of exploitation and competition with domestic livestock of pastoralists; extant populations probably number about 100,000. It is virtually unknown in zoos, but young have been born and orphans have been reared successfully in a 200-ha fenced enclosure in native habitat.

Synonymies completed 14 April 2008

  • Pantholops Hodgson, 1834

  • Antelope Abel, 1826:234. Incorrect subsequent spelling of, but not Antilope Pallas, 1766.

  • Oryx Hamilton-Smith, 1827:196. Part; used as a subgenus of Antilope Pallas, 1766.

  • Pantholops Hodgson, 1834:81. Part; proposed as a subgenus of Antilope Pallas, 1766; type species Antilope hodgsonii Abel, 1826, by monotypy.

  • Pantholops: Hodgson, 1838:153. First use as a genus.

  • Kemas: Gray, 1843:157. Not Kemas Ogilby, 1837.

  • Pantolops Stein-Nordheim, 1884:109. Incorrect subsequent spelling of Pantholops Hodgson, 1834.

  • Context and Content. Order Artiodactyla, suborder Ruminantia, family Bovidae, subfamily Caprinae, tribe variously Pantholopini or Saigini. Pantholops is monotypic. Hodgson (1834) aligned P. hodgsonii with the “Antilopine” and “Gazelline” groups, but Gray (1872) created a new family, Pantholopidae, because of its “peculiarities” (Pocock 1910:899). Current molecular and morphological studies align P. hodgsonii most closely with Caprinae (e.g., Gatsey et al. 1997; Gentry 1992), although some contend that additional genetic resolution needs to be achieved (Lei et al. 2003; Schaller and Amato 1998). Based on behavior and various morphological characteristics, Vrba and Schaller (2000:220) concluded that Pantholops “has no close recent relatives and represents an ancient lineage that diverged during the Miocene from the closest living forms [Caprinae].” Grubb (2005) placed P. hodgsonii in the subfamily Caprinae.

  • Pantholops hodgsonii (Abel, 1826)

  • Chiru or Tibetan Antelope

  • Antelope hodgsonii Abel, 1826:233–234. Type locality “Tingri Maidan, a fine plain or valley, through which the Arrun flows … beyond the snows made by Kooti pass [ =  Tibet].”

  • A[ntilope (Oryx)]. kemas? Hamilton-Smith, 1827:196, 199. Type locality “Chandang, north-west of Digurgu, in the Himalaya mountains;” described as the “Unicorn Chiru of Bhote, in all likelihood, the Unicorn of the ancient Persians.”

  • Antilope [(Antilope)] chiru Lesson, 1827:371. Type locality “les habitans du Népaul [ =  Nepal].”

  • Antilope [(Pantholops)] hodgsonii: Hodgson, 1834:81. Name combination.

  • Antilope Hodgesonii Hodgson, 1838:154. Incorrect subsequent spelling of Antilope hodgsonii Abel, 1826.

  • Pantholops hodgsonii Hodgson, 1842:282. First use of current name combination.

  • Kemas hodgsoni: Gray, 1843:157. Name combination and incorrect subsequent spelling of Antilope hodgsonii Abel, 1826.

  • Context and Content. Context as for genus. P. hodgsonii is monotypic.

    Nomenclatural Notes. According to Sclater and Thomas (1887), the 1st description of this species was published by C. Abel in the Calcutta Government Gazette in 1826 and was formalized in his correspondence to The Philosophical Magazine and Journal in the same year. We were unable to locate the “article” in the Gazette, and following other zoologists who seemingly had the same difficulty and constructed synonymies of P. hodgsonii without it, we provide reference only to the article in the Philosophical Magazine. In the mid-1820s, specimens and descriptions of this species were being shared by naturalists such as Abel, Hodgson, Lesson, and Hamilton-Smith with follow-up “publications” and correspondences that overlapped one another in time (Sclater and Thomas 1887). We defer to the summary of Sclater and Thomas (1887:46–47) of the nomenclatural sequence of events and rely on Abel's correspondence in the Philosophical Magazine as the starting point of this synonymy.


    Pantholops hodgsonii is the only completely endemic species of large mammal on the Tibetan Plateau (Schaller 1998); it has no congeners and is unique among ungulates of comparable size. Unlike other caprids, female P. hodgsonii do not have horns (Pilgrim 1939). Enlarged snout and fine undercoat of the pelage of both sexes and long upright lyre-shaped horns of males (Fig. 1) distinguish P. hodgsonii from other ungulates, particularly the sympatric Procapra picticaudata (Tibetan gazelle—Schaller 1998) and other Asiatic gazelles, such as Gazella subgutturosa (goitered gazelle—Kingswood and Blank 1996) and Procapra gutturosa (Mongolian gazelle—Sokolov and Lushchekina 1997).

    Fig. 1

    Mature male Pantholops hodgsonii in nuptial pelage, Qinghai Province, China, November 2006. Photograph by G. B. Schaller.


    The related, but allopatric,