Forestry police have stepped up patrols to stop the poaching of Tibetan antelope, but the endangered species is still being hunted, officials say. Officials in Tibet estimate there are about 100,000 Tibetan antelope - also known as chiru - left in China. Mostly are in the Kekexili No-man's Land - an uninhabited 45,000 square km area including parts of Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang. The animals are being hunted for their fine wool, shahtoosh. Shahtoosh shawls can fetch as much as US$17,000 (HK$132,000) in Western fashion markets, although there is a worldwide ban on the trade. Liu Wulin, of the Tibet Forestry Department's protection office, said more than 200 forestry police were guarding the region's woodland and protecting wild animals like the antelope. He said some poachers formed organised gangs and others were hired by foreigners to hunt the antelope. According to figures provided by the State Forestry Bureau, forestry police cracked 14 poaching cases and recovered 3,088 antelope skins between January last year and May this year. Most antelope skins are smuggled through Nepal into India, where they are woven into shawls. The deputy Communist Party secretary of the Tibet Forestry Department, Tsering Dorji, said the Government was aware of the problem but admitted more needed to be done. 'The infrastructure of our forest management is inadequate . . . our standard now corresponds to the standards in other inland provinces in the 1960s and 1970s,' Mr Tsering said. He admitted a manpower shortage was hurting government efforts to protect forests and wild animals and said some poachers were better equipped than the police. But Mr Liu said the situation had improved since antelope poaching gained worldwide attention. He claimed the antelope population had been increasing recently. But the poachers are not only being fought by the Government. Local environmental group GreenRiver has set up the Suonandajie Natural Protection Station in Kekexili. Zhao Huanyu, a GreenRiver worker in Sichuan's Chengdu city, said hundreds of people from across China had volunteered to man the protection station since it was set up three years ago. Named after Suonandajie - a local party secretary who was killed by poachers seven years ago in an anti-poaching operation - the station is perhaps the best-equipped and tallest building in the no-man's land according to Ms Zhao. 'We can't arrest the poachers but we inform the police when our volunteers find them,' she said. Equipped with satellite telephones, volunteers relay daily weather and wildlife reports to Chengdu. But the volunteers' main responsibility was to educate local people about environmental protection, Ms Zhao said. A department head at Tibet's Environmental Protection Bureau, Zhuang Hongxiang, said the region faced serious challenges in maintaining an ecological balance. Global warming and large-scale development were among factors putting pressure on the fragile ecosystem. But she said strict measures would prevent the construction of the new Qinghai-Tibet railway from causing environmental damage. The highest railway in the world, it will pass through the Kekexili No-man's Land and is scheduled to be completed in six years, linking Tibet to the rest of China.