Fashion may yet claim another victim. This time it's the chiru, the Tibetan antelope, whose wool is used for the high fashion shahtoosh shawl.
Alarmed conservationists in India have launched a massive campaign to encourage weavers of shahtoosh to organize themselves to promote an alternative fashion brand: the pashma, a handcrafted, traditional Kashmiri pashmina made from the wool of non-endangered, domesticated Himalayan goats.
"Many traditional craftsmen still feel that weaving shahtoosh is their birthright," wildlife activist Aniruddha Mookerjee said. "No government would be able to enforce a total ban unless you provide alternatives."
Jammu and Kashmir, in the Himalayas, borders Tibet, where an estimated 100,000 chiru are fighting a losing battle for survival. In the upper reaches of the Tibetan plateau, these animals face intensive poaching for their under-fleece, which yields the finest of wool used for making shahtoosh shawls.
Jammu and Kashmir's chief wildlife warden, A.K. Srivastava, said that 7,000 to 8,000 chiru were killed in Tibet every year.
"At this rate, the animal would be extinct in another eight years," he warned.
Conservationists blame the dire predicament of the chiru on the popularity of shahtoosh among wealthy consumers in Asia, the U.S. and Europe from the 1990s onward. Seizures of shahtoosh shawls, each weighing less than 6 ounces and hyped for their warmth and snob value, have been made in the fashion capitals of London, Rome and New Delhi, as well as in China, Japan, France, Dubai and Switzerland.
Photo by keong-zai.