Website by AQEEL FAROOQI  



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Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years

 WILDLIFE WINDOW | Aqeel Farooqi

Hindustan Times, Lucknow | July 4, 2001



If the Tibetan people, as a nation, have to take up cudgels against the occupation of their country by a larger and more powerful neighbour, there also exists a native animal species in the country – the Tibetan antelope - which perforce has to wage a last ditch-battle against its very extermination at the hands of a more formidable foe – the international poacher. And the only reason why this animal is so ruthlessly persecuted is that its fur unfortunately yields the highest quality of wool ever known to man.

The Tibetan antelope, Pantholops hodgsoni, also known as the ‘chiru,’ is now found only in the remote plateaus of Tibet, and the Xinjiang, and Qinghai provinces of China. It is estimated that the chiru population ran into several million at the turn of the 20th century, during which time they were also known to converge in the valleys of northern Laddak, but their population has now alarmingly dropped to less than 75,000 today. Wildlife biologists and conservationists aver that chiru are currently being illegally hunted at the rate of 20,000 per year for their wool, commonly known as ‘shahtoosh’ (king of wools, in Persian). The slaughtered animals end up supplying a high fashion trade of fine, soft shawls made from their wool. Sold in fashion outlets in New York, Paris, London, and Hong Kong, these shawls generate thousands of dollars each, from buyers who are often unaware that they are obtaining a product which is illegal internationally.

Tibetan antelope are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits any trade in their products, worldwide. They have also been given Class I protection status under China’s Wildlife Laws, while in India they are listed in Schedule 1 of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, at par with the tiger, elephant and other highly endangered species.

The high rate of decimation of chirus at the hands of poachers and traders has now galvanized the international conservation community to plunge headlong into the battle to save the species. In India, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the WWF-India and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) have all made significant contributions to its conservation. Whereas WPSI took the issue of shahtoosh to court and was instrumental in obtaining a restraint order from the Jammu High Court against the use of shahtoosh as material for the making of shawls by Kashmiri weavers, the WTI collaborated with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to conduct an in-depth investigation of the illegal trade in Tibetan antelope wool.

On June 27th, 2001 IFAW and the WTI held simultaneous press conferences in London, Beijing, and New Delhi, and announced the results of the joint investigation that revealed the international scope of the highly illegal trade in Tibetan antelope wool from China and shawls from India – a trade, which the report says, may cause the extinction of this unique species within the next five years.

According to the report entitled , "Wrap Up the Trade - An International Campaign to Save the Endangered Tibetan Antelope", the raw shahtoosh wool is smuggled into India, ending up in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where it is woven into high quality shawls, which continue to be sold illegally to the wealthy elite in countries such as the UK, USA, Italy and France. The investigation lasted for over eight months, and was carried out by five teams in three countries. The teams collected first-hand information and video footage of the illegal trade of chiru pelts being carried on in the border areas between China, Nepal and India. For added measure, they also conducted a socio-economic survey of an estimated 30,000 shahtoosh workers to determine possible impacts of a ban on shahtoosh weaving in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Fortunately in India, it seems that the awareness of the illegality of shahtoosh shawls has been hammered home, and hopefully the elite class that can afford to buy one, will now have nothing to do with such a shawl. Moreover, with Mrs Maneka Gandhi recently prevailing upon the outgoing US ambassador’s wife to disown the shahtoosh shawl in her possession, the media attention and the subsequent discussions about the event in high-fashion circles must surely have helped to cement the point.

But the all-important question which remains to be answered is whether the illegal wildlife trade in India will cease to deal in shahtoosh, since it is inextricably linked to the trade in tiger parts, whereby traffickers supplying illegal tiger parts from India to China, trade them for Tibetan antelope pelts or wool, which are so highly sought this side of the border. And going by the massive seizures of tiger skins and bones made by the STF in Uttar Pradesh recently, it is clearly evident that the wildlife traffickers in the state have been actively carrying on their sinister enterprise. In most of these seizures, it was determined by the STF sleuths that the tiger skins and bones were destined for Nepal, and possibly onward to China for use in the traditional medicines which that country is so infamous for.

There is no doubt that shahtoosh would have been one of the prizes gleefully bartered by the traders in exchange of the tiger derivatives. A fair exchange, one would wryly admit. Hardly ironical then, that the Indian tiger and Tibetan antelope are both listed in the same Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.