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Initiative

Oct 02, 2002
Hope for Chiru, the Tibetan antelope.

Persians called it ‘shahtoosh’—‘fit for a king’. The magical Kashmiri shawl is so fine that 3 metres of it weighs just 160 gms and it can be pulled through a ring. Napoleon wooed Josephine with one and the West soon discovered it. A single shawl can cost $17,000. 50,000 master weavers in Kashmir have been creating this marvel for 600 years.

But the sadness of chiru, a Tibetan antelope [’antholops hodgsoni’]comes woven with the shawl. Its wispy wool --nothing else is fit for a shahtoosh-- cannot be sheared: the chiru is shot and skinned. About 5 of them need to be killed to make one shawl. Today the chiru is a threatened species. Thanks to smugglers between Tibet, China and India there are today only 75,000 chirus left on this planet. It was estimated in 1997 that about 2.5 tonnes of shahtoosh wool was being smuggled into India annually from China, via Nepal. Each chiru yields about 50 gms, so work out the scale of the slaughter.

Though the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species [CITES] banned shahtoosh trade in 1979, massacre of the chiru has continued. But now a just passed amendment to the Indian Wildlife [Protection] Act , 1972 seeks to treat poachers on par with drug peddlers. Quite apart from a fine of Rs.25,000 there is a prison term of two to seven years. Current owners of shatoosh have to register their treasure. They may bequeath a shahtoosh but not sell it. The amendment also empowers activist groups to play vigilante roles

Narcissism however is difficult to legislate against. Most one can do is to try and scratch the hard hearts of the rich.

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