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Chiru Poaching and Shahtoosh Trade

Threats: The principal threat to the survival

of the Tibetan antelope is organized, illegal
poaching carried out by Hui and Han
migrants, as well as Tibetan and

Chinese locals in chiru habitat, which is causing critical over utilization of the species to supply
the shahtoosh trade. Other threats to the chiru and its habitat include fencing and grazing
encroachment by pastoralists, which interfere with chiru migration and foraging; extractive
activities, including oil drilling and gold mining; and increasing human settlement.

Chiru Poaching and Shahtoosh Trade

Traditional Practices: Tibetans formerly hunted chiru on a subsistence basis, principally for their
meat, using traps, dogs and muzzle-loading rifles, although Tibetan cultural practices traditionally
discourage hunting. Use of Tibetan antelope horn has been documented in traditional Tibetan
and Chinese medicine, although medicinal use accounts for a minority of chiru poaching.
Poaching: Shahtoosh (roughly translated from Persian as "king of wools") is the undercoat of the
Tibetan antelope and is considered the world's finest and warmest wool, with a mean fiber
diameter if 9-12 microns -- one-fifth the thickness of a human hair. Killing the chiru and plucking
the pelts can only collect the wool. Poachers are either Tibetan nomads or Chinese migrants who
use jeeps and trucks to reach remote chiru habitat, often surrounding herds at night and blinding
animals with vehicle lights, then gunning them down. One chiru yields approximately 120-150 gm
of shahtoosh, necessitating the death of at least three Tibetan antelope to make a one- by two-
meter ladies' shawl and up to five antelope for a two- by three-meter men's shawl. As many as
20,000 chiru are poached annually, based on estimates by China's State Forestry Administration.

Shahtoosh Smuggling and Manufacture: Shahtoosh is smuggled from China to India for
manufacturing in Jammu And Kashmir State. Smuggling routes typically follow the high mountain
passes between Tibet and India, or transit through Nepal. Chiru pelts may sell for up to $80
apiece, while prices of raw shahtoosh range from $1,500 to more than $2,000 per kilo. Poachers
may barter shahtoosh with traders for tiger bones, bear gall bladders and musk pods, forming a
lucrative, deadly two-way trade in endangered species products. Shahtoosh products have been
manufactured for centuries exclusively in Jammu and Kashmir, where the entire trade is
reportedly controlled by less than 20 influential manufacturers.


Finished shahtoosh products are illegally exported from Jammu and Kashmir and readily find
markets in India and wealthy countries, where they have become a fashion rage in the last
decade. Shahtoosh shawls typically sell for $2,000-$8,000, with prices occasionally as high as
$15,000, depending upon size and quality. A number of instances of shahtoosh sales have been
reported in the U.S., including shawls openly advertised in the June 1998 issue of Harper's
Bazaar for sale at the New York retail outlet of the Italian company Malo. However, the market
appears to be moving underground in most developed countries, where the public is increasingly
aware of the illegality of the shahtoosh trade. Shahtoosh shawls can now found for sale
worldwide, either under the counter at retail stores, at private events hosted by unscrupulous
dealers or individuals, or over the Internet.

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