Shahtoosh shawls are shrouds for tibetan antelope

Posted: 10 February 2002

The demand for luxurious meltingly soft woolen shawls is driving the Tibetan antelope to extinction, according to an undercover investigation by conservation groups.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India today announced the findings of the eight-month investigation carried out by five teams in China, Nepal and India.

The groups declared that the highly illegal trade in Tibetan antelope wool from China and shawls from India could render these antelopes extinct within five years. Any trade in the Tibetan antelope and its products is illegal under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The Tibetan antelope, also known as the chiru, inhabits only the remote plateaus of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai provinces of China. The chiru population has dropped from several million at the turn of the 20th century to less than 75,000 today.

The teams collected information and video footage of the illegal trade of chiru pelts in the border areas between China, Nepal and India. The evidence shows these animals are being killed at a rate of 20,000 per year for their fine wool, known as shahtoosh, meaning king of wools.

Shahtoosh shawls continue to be sold illegally to wealthy countries such as the United Kingdom, the USA, Italy and France, despite the fact that the trade has been illegal for over 20 years.

Investigators found that illegal shahtoosh shawls are still easily available in fashion outlets in Delhi and London.

In their new report, Wrap Up the Trade - An International Campaign to Save the Endangered Tibetan Antelope, the groups say that the shahtoosh wool is smuggled into India, where in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir it is woven into expensive shawls.

Today, a single shahtoosh shawl can command a price as high as $16,000 on the European market, though local poachers earn no more than $50 per antelope pelt.

As well as promoting awareness throughout the fashion world to end the demand for shahtoosh shawls, the two organisations are working with groups in India to target the illegal market there and seek a viable economic alternative for local weavers.

"It is possible to end the production and sale of illegal shahtoosh shawls in India without the weavers feeling the pinch, if the government and marketing agencies, as well as NGOs get together to work on a viable alternative," said Vivek Menon, executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India.

IFAW is funding anti-poaching patrols and education programs in China, and campaigning for tougher fines and penalties for those charged with the illegal trade or possession of shahtoosh.

Source: Environment News Service, June 2001.

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