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TA109 © International Fund for Animal Welfare ( A'bu, Tibet Department of Forestry
Shahtoosh antelope, known locally in Tibet as Chiru
  Image courtesy of TRAFFIC East Asia
Up to 30 antelopes are killed to make one shawl
  Gram for gram tiger bone can be worth more than cocaine
Gram for gram tiger bone can be worth more than cocaine
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    BBC: Webguide to endangered species
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Endangered species:
Wanted dead or alive

The illegal trafficking of rare species of flora and fauna is amongst the most lucrative criminal trades in the world and, like other areas of organised crime, is smuggled across borders.

The natural habitat for many rare and desirable species is often the poorer, hot countries of the south where a small price is paid. The creatures are then trafficked through middlemen to rich markets in the west.

Small chameleons, ornamental frogs, parrots, stuffed tiger cubs and shahtoosh antelopes are all listed as endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

According to CITES the demand for particular products or species has increased and the profits are so great that certain creatures have become endangered because of the market for them, their body parts or derivatives.

Gram for gram, wildlife products such as rhino horn, bear gall bladder, tiger bone or deer musk can be worth more than the same quantity of a class A drug such as cocaine. But, while convicetd drug smugglers may spend many years in prison, the penalties for trafficking in animal products are far lower.

Shahtoosh is made from the wool coat of the Tibetan antelope, known locally as Chiru. These animals live in the most extreme weather conditions on the high plateau of Tibet where poachers make month-long missions to hunt them for their precious fur.

Once killed, the coats are stripped from the animals on the mountainside and transported to India or Pakistan where the hairs are plucked from the skins and woven in to fine shawls.

Up to 30 antelopes are killed to make a single shawl and the retail price can be anything between £3,000 and £10,000.

The biggest case of shahtoosh smuggling occurred in 1998. The Wildlife Protection Society of India were informed by the Metropolitan Police that a consignment of shahtoosh had left Kashmir destined for a shop address in London.

Officers from the wildlife unit raided the premises and seized over £350,000 worth of shawls.

Since the raid the Metropolitan Police and the Chinese Army, who patrol the mountains in Tibet for poachers, have formed an alliance.

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