US Ambassador's Wife in Trouble Over Possession of Shahtoosh Shawl
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/04/04; April 4, 2001.]
NEW DELHI, India - Wednesday, April 4, 2001 (AP) -- The wife of the outgoing U.S. ambassador intends to hand over to authorities a shawl woven from a rare, endangered, Tibetan antelope before she leaves India this month, an embassy spokesman said Wednesday.
The purchase and sale of shahtoosh shawls, made from the throat fur of the antelopes, called chirus, is illegal in India and the United States. The shahtoosh trade is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to which the United States is a signatory.
"She hasn't given a time frame but she will return it to the concerned authorities before she leaves India," Gordon Duguid, the press secretary of the U.S. embassy, said of Jacqueline Lundquist, wife of outgoing ambassador Richard Celeste.
Celeste is a former Ohio governor and Peace Corps director, appointed by former President Bill Clinton.
Wildlife activists campaigning to end the illegal trade in shahtoosh raised a furor when it was reported that Lundquist possessed one of the shawls. Three to five Tibetan antelopes, called chirus, are killed to make each shawl.
"It was public knowledge. She had been wearing it in public for almost a year," said A.K. Ganju, private secretary to Environment Minister Maneka Gandhi, who is an ardent wildlife activist.
Lundquist, who said she wasn't aware that possession of shahtoosh shawls was illegal, has volunteered to turn over the shawl "to the concerned authorities," Duguid said.
Newspapers reported that Gandhi intends to serve a legal notice on Lundquist, demanding that she identify the vendor who sold her the shawl. Gandhi, who was traveling outside New Delhi, couldn't be reached for comments and her office said it couldn't confirm the reports.
Duguid said that Lundquist hadn't received any legal notice from the government.
The Statesman newspapers reported Wednesday that the British High Commissioner's wife had undertaken to inform all diplomats and their spouses that shahtoosh was illegal following a World Wildlife Fund meeting in 1999. However, the British High Commission couldn't confirm the report.
Environmentalists say chirus are slaughtered in the thousands in the Tibetan plateau in China and their hides are taken to Kashmir, where the fiber is woven into shawls and scarves by master weavers.
The shawls are transported clandestinely to New Delhi where they are sold by individuals in private meetings, and are exported illegally. The trade in shahtoosh has caused the number of chirus to dwindle from 1 million a half century ago to 75,000 today.
Shahtoosh shawls, which sell undecorated for $2,000 and embroidered for up to $15,000, are so fine that even a large one can be pulled through a wedding ring. They were once used only as a traditional dowry item in Tibet.
Buying, selling and possessing of shahtoosh items has been illegal in the United States and in most other countries since 1979, but the material has been showing up recently in exclusive shops around the world and in private sales, conservationist groups claim.
"Diplomats are continuing to take shahtoosh out of India," said Vivek Menon, executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India, who has campaigned hard to enforce the ban on shahtoosh. "It is well known in intelligence circles."
Possession of a shahtoosh shawl carries a maximum prison term of seven years in India.
Copyright 1998-99, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)