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Shyok Valley, Ladakh, India

(Panthalops hodgsoni)

IUCN status : Endangered

Locally called Chiru, Tibetan Antelopes are exclusive residents of Changthang region of Tibetan plateau. They are believed to be migratory animals that migrate across the Tibetan plateau, the Tien Shan ranges and Hindukush ranges in search of greener pastures of Ladakh and North Sikkim. Chiru is a large bodied antelope like animal. Males are characterized by long, slender, black and almost straight horns which are absent in females. They are extremely rare and difficult to locate and are rarely seen in the arid regions of Ladakh and Sikkim. During the winters a natural extra layer of fleece covers their body to protect them from the harshest weather. However the coat disappears during the summers.

It is this coat for which they are poached. This is the fleece which makes the most expensive wool in the world called “Shahtoosh”. Shahtoosh, meaning “the king of wools” in Persian, is an ultrasoft and ultrawarm wool that is almost always illegal to import, trade, or even own. To proliferate their business, the smugglers went up to spreading rumors that the actual origin of Shahtoosh is the down feather of Siberian Geese or Tibetan Antelopes automatically shed off their coat which is then used to make the wool. In actual, it takes four animals to provide enough wool for just one Shahtoosh scarf. Because the antelopes are wild animals that can’t be domesticated and shorn, the only way to get the wool is to kill them and strip it from their carcasses. The Global demand for shahtoosh wiped out 90 percent of the Tibetan antelope population during the previous century. A single Shahtoosh scarf can cost as much as $20,000 (more than 15 lakh Indian Rupees). The wool is hence rightly termed as “Soft Gold”.

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