Animal welfare group protects beasts killed to make shawls

An animal welfare group is trying to halt the trade in wool made from the fur of endangered antelopes in Tibet.

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DUBAI // An animal welfare group is launching a two-pronged attack on the trade in shahtoosh shawls, which are made from wool spun from the fur of an endangered Tibetan antelope.

Shahtoosh is difficult to identify as it can easily be mistaken for pashmina, which is legal. The only way to positively identify the cloth is to subject it to a chemical test in a laboratory.

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The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) has produced an Arabic translation of an Indian booklet that explains the procedure, enabling Gulf region authorities to carry out the test. The group is also organising a training workshop to help officials identify the cloth.

"Here in the UAE we have a problem with shahtoosh," said Dr Elsayyed Mohamed, an Ifaw programme manager. "The antelopes are killed in Tibet and the wool is taken to Kashmir where it is used to manufacture shahtoosh shawls.

"From there it is distributed all over the world, with some coming to Dubai and Sharjah where it is sold illegally side by side with pashmina. The buyers are usually Europeans who take it home as a souvenir.

"Shahtoosh is a problem for customs because it is difficult to identify."

The antelope, also known as chiru, is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) as threatened with extinction, and trade in specimens taken from the wild is illegal except in rare circumstances.

"This is one of the main difficulties in implementing Cites - an item that is difficult to identify," Dr Mohamed said.

"Some of the factories making pashmina are producing very fine cloth, they have developed a technique for making shawls that look like shahtoosh. Before, some experienced people could identify shahtoosh but now it is difficult; you have to go to the lab.

"It is estimated that there are only 75,000 of the antelopes left in Tibet - and each year 25,000 are killed, so the population is declining dramatically."

He said the shawls came in patterned and plain versions and were available widely in the GCC and many other countries.

"In Paris and London, there are many confiscations of shahtoosh shawls. Also in India, because it is part of an ancient tradition. When a girl there got married her family would have to give her a shahtoosh shawl. When the British occupied India they learnt about this tradition and they knew this was good fine wool, so this tradition started to spread."

Meanwhile, Ifaw is facing another problem in the UAE - the smuggling overland from Saudi Arabia of baboons that could spread deadly diseases to humans.

"One shipment was about 40 baby baboons smuggled by truck," he said. "This animal is not endangered but the problem here is that baboons and primates carry zoonotic diseases, which can be transmitted from animals to humans.

"There is a long list of dangerous diseases that can pass between primates and humans - Ebola, tuberculosis and many others.

"This is not the only shipment, there have been others, but this was the big one. The health aspect of this shipment is very worrying. It is very dangerous to have this baboon enter the country."