Captive breeding of the Tibetan Antelope – hunted for their underfur – will neither serve the purpose of conservation nor provide raw material for weavers as they have to be killed to collect wool for making shahtoosh shawls, the Environment ministry has told a parliamentary panel.
The ministry’s assertion came after the panel recommended that Tibetan Antelope or chiru goats should be conserved and bred and vast tract of land should be utilised for it to provide sustainable livelihood for people of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been a “conflict region for long”.
The ministry noted that China failed to keep Chiru in captivity due to its poor survival rates after the department related parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forest mentioned that China and Mongolia were breeding the goats.
The animal has long been hunted for their underfur shahtoosh, which is renowned for its quality and has traditionally been transported to Srinagar, where it is woven into an extremely fine fabric used to make shawls.
However, it takes 3-5 hides to make a single shawl, and the wool cannot be sheared or combed, so to collect the fur the animals have to be killed.
“Captive rearing of Chiru or Tibetan antelope will neither serve the purpose of conservation nor can provide raw material for weavers as these animals cannot be bred in captivity and animals have to be killed to collect their wool to make the shawls,” the Ministry said in its action taken report to the panel chaired by Congress leader Anand Sharma.
Trade in shahtoosh shawl is banned.
The Ministry said chiru is assessed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN 2017), because the current status can only be maintained with continued high levels of protection in its natural range and strict controls on trade and manufacture of the shawls made from its underfur.
Any relaxation in the protection regime is predicted to result in a rapid population decline due to commercial poaching.
The Ministry said there have been representations from weavers and traders in J&K for the removal of ban on trade in shatoosh through amendments in the Wildlife Acts of India, J&K State, China, and the CITES in order to benefit Shatoosh weaving industry in Kashmir.
Chiru inhabits high altitude Tibetan Plateau and requires large expanse of land for its movement and ranging patterns to fulfil its feeding and breeding requirements and therefore rearing in captivity is extremely difficult, it said.
The quality of wool depends on the cold and harsh climatic factors operating at high altitudes (3,800 m up to 5,500 m) where this animal occurs in nature.
“It therefore, may not serve the purpose, if it is kept in captivity below this altitude. As per unconfirmed reports, the Chinese failed to keep Chiru in captivity due to its poor survival rates.
“Any attempt to do conservation breeding of chiru at very high altitude regions of Ladakh (> 3800m) may neither be economical nor feasible as humans cannot be posted there continuously for more than 2-3 months to manage the resources due to high rate of casualties,” the ministry said.
Prior to the assessment of the technical feasibility and economic viability of captive rearing or farming of Chiru by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the issues dealing with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 will have to be examined first as Chiru is listed under Schedule- I.
The panel in one of its reports earlier had recommended that the ministry should conserve and breed the chiru goat and vast tract of land should be utilized for conserving them.
“These goats can then be given to shawl makers for collecting hair. This would not only increase the number of these goats but would also add to the sustainable livelihood opportunities of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who are a lot dependent on the handicraft of embroidered shawls,” the committee had earlier said.
The committee had said it understands that China and Mongolia are breeding chiru goats and Mongolia is known for its finest wool.
“The Committee feels that livelihood opportunities are very low for the people of Jammu and Kashmir because of the extreme climatic conditions there and shawl-making contributes a lot towards sustainable livelihoods of these people,” it had said. PTI