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A Tibetan Scarf To Die For

From Correspondent Jane Arraf

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 99/10/26 Compiled by Thubten (Sam) Samdup]

NEW DELHI, India October 25, 1999 (CNN) -- In London, New York and New Delhi one of the hottest accessories for the rich and style-conscious is a large scarf with a funny name -- the shatoosh.

For years, buyers were told the ultra-thin, ultra-warm shawls were made from chin hair collected from trees that Tibetan goats rubbed against.

Now the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched a campaign to show the truth is much uglier.

The shawls are drab to look at, but are worth up to $5,000 each -- and they're illegal.

Called a shatoosh, an Urdu word meaning the king of wools, each one is so fine it can pass through a ring.

They used to be sold in markets. Now they are more difficult to come by.

Unlike the gathering of cashmere for commercial use, the animals are killed to collect the wool. The trade has gone underground since being banned in India but that hasn't stopped demand.

"So many people, so many, and foreigners also -- they come here and say give me the shatoosh," says Indian salesman Arif Qureshi.

Qureshi, from Kashmir, took over selling shatooshes from his father. But he says he gave it up three years ago when the Indian government started cracking down.

The crackdown though hasn't had much impact in Tibet, where the animals are killed, or Kashmir, where the wool is spun and woven.

As a consequence, the WWF is trying to target customers.

In India, where the shawls are a popular dowry item, society women are being asked to take a pledge.

"(I) say no to the shatoosh as a personal vow and I also encourage others to do likewise," says writer Sadia Delhvi.

The animal they're trying to save is called a chiru and it's found only in Tibet. So little is known about it that scientists can't even agree whether it's an antelope or a goat.

Wildlife officials say at the rate the chiru is being killed -- almost 20,000 a year -- they'll be extinct in another five years.

Weavers have come up with a substitute - a cashmere shawl that's almost as fine and costs less than $100.

But the problem for many buyers they say is they're not expensive enough and women want the real thing.

Wildlife officials hope their campaign will at least embarrass some potential buyers into giving up the shawls. But the animals may not stand a chance against what traders say is a steady demand for some of the most luxurious scarves in the world.

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