Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tibetan Antelopes Threatened by Pakistan's Demand for Shahtoosh Shawls

Tibetan antelopes in the Gansu Province in northwest China.

The Tibetan antelope has long been considered a favored target for poachers thanks to its soft and fine underwool, which is woven into shawls known as shahtoosh. The demand for such material had decimated the world's population of this magnificent antelope from nearly a million to less than 75,000 at the turn of the twentieth century. The depletion in the Tibetan antelope population led to the implementation of substantial measurements to ensure the species' protection and combat the trade of shahtoosh in Asia. One of the countries that played a major role in the protection of the Tibetan antelope is Pakistan, where manufacturing or wearing of shahtoosh is punishable by law resulting in prison sentences of up to two years and a fine of up to one million rupees. However, despite these measurements, the possession of a shahtoosh shawl is still regarded as a symbol of status among Pakistan's rich upper class. During the winter months, men and women would wear brown-beige shawls which can be seen draped over salwar kameez and saris at luxurious dinner parties and weddings. Shahtoosh shawls have traditionally been given as wedding gifts in both Pakistan and India. Although most Kashmiri handcraft stores in the capital city of Islamabad are aware of the law, they are known to sell shahtoosh shawls for "serious buyers" which are often wealthy mothers eager to buy these shawls for their daughters' dowries.
Pakistani women wearing shahtoosh shawls of the "Toosh Collection."

The issue recently came into the picture when a young designer named Nida Azwer broadcasted a collection of shahtoosh shawls across the country. However, she was quoted saying of her "Toosh Collection" that it is "not completely shahtoosh, it's mixed with pashmina." She has since been admired for "seeing a gap in the market" with the "intent to make something this valuable readily available." She also told the Guardian that even though her shawls used the name "shahtoosh," they were made from sheep wool and pashmina and not from the wool of the Tibetan antelope. She further added that out of the thirty shawls she had bought, she sold only five of them after doing her "own brand of embroidery work" on them and that she has not broken any laws. Two years ago, WWF-Pakistan had sent Azwer a complaint letter and alerted the provincial wildlife society because she was promoting fox furs and other kinds of fur from wild animals. Biodiversity director Uzma Khan stated that the organization plans to "fully investigate this case as well."
Carcasses of Tibetan antelopes killed by poachers for their fur.

This article clearly demonstrates how the manufacturing and selling of wildlife products for public consumerism can have a dramatic impact on the wildlife. In this case, the wool from the Tibetan antelope has been in focus as a major source of shahtoosh shawls which are greatly favored among the wealthy elite in Pakistan. These shawls were traditionally given as wedding gifts in the country, and that tradition still prevails nowadays in which wealthy people would purchase the products for weddings even though they are aware about the laws against the selling and wearing of shahtoosh. It seems that in spite of strong measurements imposed to discourage selling and possession of shahtoosh, the elite upper class of Pakistan is still driven by traditional values and therefore do not abide by the strict laws intended to protect the Tibetan antelopes. By wearing and presenting shahtoosh shawls as wedding gifts, these people are simply promoting the merciless slaughter of these magnificent antelopes without realizing it. Therefore, it is extremely crucial that the wealthy society of Pakistan should refrain from this traditional aspect of presenting clothing made from the fur of an endangered species as wedding gifts and look for better alternatives. These include gifting clothes made from regular sheep wool, pashmina, or other materials. Furthermore, fashion designers should also refrain from advertising and promoting clothing made from wild animals. This way, it would help maximize the chances of providing protection for not just the Tibetan antelope but other endangered species as well.

View article here           

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