Big Time Shahtoosh Traders Arrested in India

DELHI, India, March 19, 2002 (ENS) - Shahtoosh shawls made from endangered Tibetan antelope worth about US$400,000 were seized in Delhi Monday and two well connected traders were taken into custody by police.

During a drive to apprehend Kashmiri militants, the Special Branch of the Delhi Police arrested two traders and seized 80 luxury shahtoosh shawls at Jangpura Extension in New Delhi, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India which assisted the police with the investigation.


Shahtoosh shawl of the finest quality (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)
The two traders, Fiaz Ahmed Parray and Ghulam Nabi, are both residents of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir. They are believed to be among the biggest suppliers of shahtoosh shawls in Delhi and are thought to be connected with the largest suppliers, and exporters, of shahtoosh in the world. They told police that they have been involved in the trade since 1978.

Shahtoosh shawls are made from the underwool of the Tibetan antelope, which is now classified as one of the world's most endangered species. It is listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and trade is prohibited under Indian law.

In high demand for the luxury fashion market, shahtoosh shawls are of such fine texture that they can be drawn through a finger ring.

The 80 confiscated shawls were top quality, and the Wildlife Protection Society said they would have been worth an estimated US$400,000 on the international market, and represent the death of about 240 Tibetan antelope.

"This case is a very positive breakthrough," said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society.


Baby Tibetan antelope (Photo courtesy IFAW)
The survival of the antelope, which inhabits the remote mountain plateaus of Tibet and the Xiajiang and Qinghai Provinces of western China, is threatened by poaching to feed the demand for shahtoosh.

The wool is smuggled from China into India across remote Himalayan border passes, where it is bartered for other wildlife products including tiger bones. The raw wool is spun and woven into shahtoosh shawls in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. "This deadly two-way trade thus fuels the slaughter of both species," the conservation organization said.

In 1998, the Wildlife Protection Society of India filed a historic public interest lawsuit in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court regarding the trade in shahtoosh. The High Court delivered a judgment in this case on May 1, 2000, which in effect prohibited trade in shahtoosh in the state.

The Court directed the state to "enforce the law against those who are carrying on business and trade in contravention of section 43 of the State Wildlife Act and provisions of CITES."

Since action was not taken on the court order, the conservation organization returned to the High Court in August 2000 and filed an appeal requesting the court to once again direct the state government to ban production and trade of shahtoosh shawls in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The case is still pending before the High Court.

Fiaz and Ghulam appeared in court in Delhi today. They have been remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.