Brussels : Swiss customs officials have confiscated 537 shawls of shahtoosh wool, made from the endangered Tibetan antelope, estimated at a value of more than 2.5 million euros. The seizure represents the slaughter of at least 1,600 animals, or more than 3% of the remaining population of Tibetan antelope. “The size of this seizure is unprecedented in Europe and indicates a thriving smuggling network despite domestic and international laws to protect the species,” said Peter Pueschel, Programme Manager in IFAW’s Wildlife and Habitat Protection Department. “The rampant illegal trade in shahtoosh is pushing this species toward extinction.”
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which assisted Swiss customs with information and video material, has a long track record in co-operating with rangers, police and customs authorities to fight poaching and the illegal trade in shahtoosh.
Shahtoosh – a Persian word for “king of wool” – is the finest wool that exists. It is made from the Tibetan antelope, also known as the “chiru,” which inhabits only the remote plateaus of Tibet , Xinjiang, and Qinghai provinces of China . As these animals cannot be bred, they are killed in the wild for their wool. The wool finds its way to weavers through clandestine routes, where it is woven into the finest of shawls that are smuggled out through illegal trade routes.
Three to five Tibetan antelopes are needed to produce one single shawl. As a result, the Tibetan antelope population has dropped from several million at the turn of the 20th Century to approximately 50,000 today.
Despite the fact that it has been illegal for 20 years, shahtoosh shawls continue to be sold illicitly in countries such as the UK , USA , Italy and France . Trade in Tibetan antelope and its products is illegal under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, a single shahtoosh shawl can bring a price as high as 10,000 euro on the European market.