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02/12/2013

Another 10,000 Tibetan antelopes killed

When police in Kathmandu, Nepal, raided a house on Sunday morning, they had no clue what they would find: 1,150 kilograms of chiru, or Tibetan antelope, wool worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the west.

Three people were arrested.

It likely meant poachers killed about 10,000 antelopes — yes, 10,000 — to get that much hair.

Down hair from the antelopes is used to weave shahtoosh shawls but it can’t be sheared off, they have to killed for it. In that context, the antelope is like the mink which also has to be killed to harvest its fur.

It is why the Tibetan antelope is on the brink of extinction.

The antelopes primarily live in Tibet, migrating to Mongolia and back. Once, millions of antelopes roamed the desolate Tibetan plateau. Initially, their wool was obtained non-violently. The antelope shed its hairs, which were procured by locals, who then sold it to weavers in the north Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir. But as their down fur first became known outside South-Asia, the indiscriminate killing of the antelopes began.

Today, their population is down to some thousands. There is a global ban on hunting them and trading in shahtoosh shawls but as Monday`s arrests showed, the antelopes are still under the gun and the illegal trade is continuing.

A shahtoosh shawl can sell anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000. The shawls are so fine that one-by-two metre shawl can be pulledthrough a finger ring.

It takes down fur from four antelopes to weave just one shawl.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

 

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