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230 Kgs of Shahtoosh Seized in Delhi

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/10/24; October 24, 2001.]

Ehtashamuddin Khan in New Delhi
Indo-Asian News Service
Tuesday, October 23, 2001.

In one of the biggest seizures of its kind, 230 kg of raw shahtoosh, believed to have been obtained by killing about 1,100 endangered antelopes, has been recovered in New Delhi.

Trade in shahtoosh, a high quality wool obtained from a rare Tibetan antelope called Chiru, is banned.

The Chiru is a protected animal that is found at very high altitudes where the temperature often falls to as low as -40 degree centigrade.

Since the animal cannot be domesticated, it is killed to obtain its wool, which is derived from the soft under-belly of the animal.

From Tibet, the raw wool is smuggled into India via Nepal. It is then taken to Kashmir, the only place where shahtoosh shawls are woven. These shawls are in great demand in domestic and international markets and cost upwards of Rs 50,000 each.

"Last week, customs authorities at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport seized 130 kg of shahtoosh wool."

"Earlier, on September 26, the police caught a consignment of 100 kg of wool at the New Delhi railway station," Chief Commissioner of Customs S P Srivastav told mediapersons.

Animal rights activists estimate that the Chiru is being killed at the rate of 15,000 to 20,000 animals per year. At this rate, the entire population of about 75,000 is likely to be wiped out in another 10 years, they say.

"The usual route to smuggle shahtoosh wool into India was Nepal. Now the smugglers are using a different channel - via Singapore," Srivastav said.

This is causing concern to wildlife activists.

"We are concerned over the possible new trade routes that are opening up. Also, we have gathered information that weaving of shahtoosh shawls is in full swing in many parts of Kashmir," Ashok Kumar, a wildlife activist who heads a non-government organisation (NGO) - Wildlife Trust of India - said.

"Poachers must have killed at least 1,100 antelopes to obtain 230 kilograms of raw wool," he added.

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