VIDEO: It’s not a question of animals or people

As A Shawl to Die For, a documentary on Vimeo, amply shows, it’s possible to conserve wildlife while also helping local communities preserve their livelihoods.

Tibetan antelopes, or Chiru, roam free only on the Plateau of Tibet and partly into

A Shawl To Die For traces the ancient craft of Shahtoosh weaving in Kashmir, India and traces its links to the Tibetan Antelope or Chiru found on the Chang Tang plateau in China. It establishes that Shahtoosh is, in fact the fleece of the Chiru, which is killed to extract this fibre. The international ban on Shahtoosh was critical for the survival of the endangered Chiru, but it also but it also spelt disaster for thousands of traditional Shahtoosh workers in Kashmir. The film explores this grim struggle between conservation and livelihood.

It also documents the interventions brought in by a community project initiated by Wildlife Trust of India and International Fund for Animal Welfare, supported by the British High Commission. The solutions thrown up by this project have been steadily implemented and the challenge now is to ensure and measure its growth and success.

Ladakh, a small area of India. The Chiru’s wool is prized for making Shahtoosh shawls, considered among the finest in the world. These shawls have been known to sell for as much as US$17,600 in the international market.

The problem is that it takes the slaughter of three to five Chiru for every 150 grams of wool and thousands of these animals were being slaughtered at single time. In 2002, helped along by the urging of IFAW and the Wildlife Trust of India, the trade in Chiru pelts was banned. Today, the endangered species is on Appendix 1 of CITES, which prohibits the international trade of the valuable shawls.

The ban was beneficial for the Chiru, but detrimental to the Shahtoosh weavers whose livelihood depended on the making of the shawls. Hardest hit were women whose husbands were lost to conflict in the region.

IFAW and WTI sought an alternative for the displaced workers, offering shawls made from Pashmina wool, which is taken from mountain goats that are farm raised. The finest Pashmina wool is almost as fine as Shahtoosh wool and its production is almost identical to that of Shahtoosh.

IFAW and WTI helped workers make the transition to weaving Pashmina, for example, suggesting ways to brand and market their products. The transition to Shahtoosh weaving is still undergoing, but the displaced workers are earning a livelihood.

Here is a case where the IFAW motto, ‘a better world for animals and people,’ is truly personified” says WTI’s Aniruddha Mookerjee in the documentary. “The law is strongly enforced and there is a very good alternative livelihood available.”

--VM

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