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BEIJING (AP) _ A rare species of Tibetan antelope whose fur is used to make expensive shahtoosh shawls will disappear within five years if nothing is done to protect it, an environmental group said Wednesday.

The antelope _ which has seen its numbers dwindle from several million a century ago to 75,000 today _ is still hunted in China and its fur openly sold in India and Britain, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

The U.S.-based group estimates the antelopes, called chirus and found in the high plateaus of Tibet and Central Asia, are being killed at a rate of 20,000 per year.

It's sought after for its fur, used to make a soft, lightweight wool called shahtoosh. A shahtoosh shawl can sell for more than $17,000, the group said.

Up to five antelopes must be killed to produce one large shahtoosh shawl. The United States and 142 other nations have signed the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, which outlaws trade in shahtoosh.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare conducted an eight-month investigation into illegal poaching of the antelope and the processing and sale of its fur.

Poachers, mostly Chinese farmers, use vehicle headlights to startle the antelope, a stocky animal that resembles a cross between a deer and a German shepherd. The poachers then shoot them with machine guns, the group said.

The pelts are taken to the Kashmir and Jammu regions of India, where workers weave them into large sheets of wool, which are sold in India or shipped abroad.

The Chinese government has stepped up enforcement of anti-poaching laws. Police in western China arrested 39 people last year for poaching, up from 23 the previous year, said Cao Zhen, a deputy director general of China's State Forestry Administration.