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' China Appeals to Fashion World to Stop Buying 'Chiru' Fur

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/08/06; August 6, 2001.]

Manila Bulletin
Monday, 6 August 2001

CINDY Crawford and other American and European super fashion models flaunt their shawls and coats made from the soft pelts of this endangered antelope.

The 'chiru' antelope whose main habitat and grazing grounds in China are near the southwestern border with Tibet has extra fine and soft fur. It is made into luxurious fashion garments sold in expensive boutiques in Europe and the United States.

It is claimed that Italian high-fashion designer Valentino keeps and sells the products in his trendy stores in Paris, London, Rome and New York.

Endemic to China, the chirus are protected by international conservation conventions. But because of their high-price fleece, poaching of the animals has become unabated.

The China Exploration and Research Society has been in the forefront of battling the continuous slaughter. It is also engaged in the worldwide campaign of convincing opulent societies to stop buying and patronizing attires and fashion accessories made of the antelope's pelts.

Shawls made of chiru fur are said to pitch $5,000 a piece. Thus, encouraging widespread butchery in the China-Tibet borders, opening high profitability prospects to illicit international trade.

Soon Extinct

There are now only 75,000 chiru antelopes in their grazing plateau where a few years back the count exceeded a million, according to Chinese authorities.

Bands of poachers of Chinese and Tibetan nationals continue to kill the animals. Officials believe some 20,000 of the antelopes are slaughtered every year.

If no militant and vigilant actions are launched against the plundering, chirus will disappear in three or four years. They are now considered to be one of the rarest creatures in the world today.

Recently, the "China Explorers" consisting of scientists and conservationists commissioned a documentary on the extensive illegal activities. Some police officials were also on the team.

Entitled "A Fashion to Die For," the film was presented by the National Geographic Channel on television.

In several shots taken at the animals' habitat hundreds of chirus were strewn all over, including lactating mothers and their young, all stripped to the bone.

Dr. Wong Hau Man, leader of the team, said the raw pelts are smuggled by poachers into India, via Kanpur. London and Hongkong have also been identified as drop-off destinations.

The campaign, somehow, is paying off. The mass slaughter as illustrated in the documentary has enraged civilized communities the world over.

Informed of the largescale slayings, a bejewelled New York matron told an interviewer in the film - "From now on, I will never, never patronize those boutiques that sell shawls made of chiru wool."

In contrast, when Hugh Hefner, Playboy Club owner, unveiled his first 707 private jet in the early 80s, photographers were allowed inside the luxuriously furnished interiors. His bed was wrapped with specially sewn blanket and sheet made of opossum pelts.

Curiously, not a single American raised a howl.

(Opossum is a tree-climbing mammal native to eastern United States.)

Saving the Young

Members of the "China Explorers" are desperately fending off the annihilation of their very own animal.

With ample support and encouragement from private citizens and independent groups, the teams scour around the plateaus for orphaned young chirus and those that still remain in the wild. The young are bottle-fed. The wild ones branded.

Vigilantes and some government men are stationed in the known grazing areas.

But Dr. Wong, a US-trained scientist, is hopeful the chiru can still be saved - with the much-needed worldwide assistance and cooperation from fashion models, designers and entrepreneurs, as well as the public at large.

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