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Tibetan antelope migration remains a mystery


10:59, July 08, 2013

Every summer Tibetan antelopes migrate thousands of kilometres to their calving grounds to give birth, but it’s still not known why they choose to make this arduous journey.

It is time to go home. With their new borns, most of the Tibetan antelope are now heading south to their original habitats. But why they migrate thousands of miles during the birthing season remains a mystery. They’ve got a lot of researchers guessing.

Some experts say the Tibetan antelope migrate for better grass, some say favorable weather could be the reason, others believe the calving ground may have some important trace elements needed by the young antelope. There’s still no definitive explanation, researcher Wu Xiaomin said.

But analysis shows migration is probably not merely for grazing purposes, because grass is more abundant in the southern part of their habitat. There may be fewer competitors and predators here in the north, but the stress of such a long migration probably outweighs that benefit. Based on more than 10 years study, Wu Xiaomin thinks migration has something to do with the antelope’s evolution.

"From the calving ground to their usual habitat, the calves will follow their mothers all the way. They’ll learn how to survive the harsh environment and escape from predators. The young antelopes will experience all the difficulties they'll also encounter in later life. This is a process of learning and growing," Wu said.

The scientists will continue to study the secrets of the migration. For these Tibetan antelopes, the road back home lies ahead, Wu Xiaomin says there are lots of survival skills the young antelope will learn from their mothers that have been passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years.

Many animals migrate every year, some in search of food, others to escape the cold. But it remains unclear why Tibetan antelope migrate during the birthing season. For many the mystery makes their migration even more compelling.

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