Srinagar: A Parliamentary panel has recommended conservation and breeding of the endangered Tibetan antelope, also known as Chiru, for deriving Shahtoosh wool to ensure the livelihood of people living in the conflict-ridden Jammu and Kashmir.
The antelope, which migrates to Ladakh from Tibet in summer, is a highly-protected species, and trade in the live animal, its fur or body parts is strictly prohibited.
Its number has declined over the years as it is killed for its soft wool used for making Shahtoosh shawls that fetch hefty prices in the illegal market.
However, in its report submitted to Parliament recently, the panel has suggested that the animal should be reared and then local shawl makers should be allowed to collect the undercoat for making Shahtoosh shawls, also known as ‘king of shawls’.
“This would not only increase the number of these animals, but also add to sustainable livelihood opportunities for the people in the region, as is being done by countries like China, Afghanistan and Mongolia,” said the panel led by Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury in its report.
The suggestion came following the visit of panel members to J&K where it found that as Chiru cannot be used for extraction of wool for Shahtoosh shawls as per the prevalent law, and the alternate livelihoods promised by the State Government with the support of the environment ministry were not benefitting the affected community, particularly women.
“With J&K being a conflict-ridden region for quite a long time, many women are unable to leave their homes and go out and earn a livelihood under schemes being offered by the Government,” said the panel, even as it empathised with the local shawl makers who said that they did not kill the animal because it was a source of their livelihood. The panel suggestions were reported by New Delhi based newspaper The Pioneer.
The committee reiterated that livelihood opportunities were very few for the people of the State because of the extreme climatic conditions, while shawl making can help contribute a lot towards their sustainable livelihood. “The committee, therefore, recommends that the ministry of environment, forest and climate change should conserve and breed the Chiru and vast tracts of land should be utilised for conserving the animal,” said the report.
During the hearing, the Ministry had reminded the panel that the species from which the Shahtoosh is derived is included under the Schedule-I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Any contravention of the provision of the Act attracts stringent penalties, it cautioned. International trade in the Tibetan antelope is already banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The punishment for selling, buying or possessing Shahtoosh shawls is imprisonment up to three years and a penalty of Rs25,000.
The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that there remains a small migratory population of less than 75,000-1,00,000, but the antelope’s status is still endangered due to illegal hunting. It takes three to four dead Chirus to make a single shawl.
The Farooq Abdullah-led government in Jammu and Kashmir had pleaded with the then federal environment ministry in 2000 to avoid banning Shahtoosh trade but it was not taken into account. The state government pleaded that the ban was affecting livelihood of thousands of people, directly or indirectly associated with the trade.