With warm regrets

A US boutique is fined for selling shahtoosh shawls. In India, the government plans to ban its sale

Published: Sunday 15 July 2001

A BOUTIQUE in Los Angeles, USA, will pay a fine of us $175,000 for importing and selling shahtoosh shawls made from the wool of the endangered chiru (Tibetan antelope). Under an agreement with the US government, Maxfield Enterprises Incorporation, the boutique located on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, will also sponsor advertisements about the plight of the chiru in Harper's Bazaar or Vanity Fair. The US Fish & Wildlife Service reported the case during investigation regarding illegal imports and sales of the shawls. The investigations indicate that Maxfield imported and sold several shahtoosh shawls between 1994 and 1996, in violation of us federal laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. Both the laws are meant to protect domestic and international wildlife.

Thomas Perse, the owner of the boutique, pleading guilty said the boutique was informed that the shawls were made from the wool of the ibex goat. At least 142 countries, including the US, have banned the sale of shahtoosh shawls to save the chiru, whose wool is used for making the shawls. Since 1990, the animal's numbers have declined sharply from an estimated one million to 75,000. "Greed and indifference continue to fuel the trade for this endangered animal," alleges assistant US attorney Michael Chagares.

Meanwhile, the Indian government too has decided to go tough on the chiru issue. The Union ministry for environment and forests (MEF) intends to amend the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) to completely ban the sale of shahtoosh shawls. Ownership of existing shawls shall be transferred, once the act has been amended, only through inheritance. Under the existing provisions of WPA, any person possessing a shahtoosh shawl can sell it if he or she has an ownership certificate. S C Sharma, additional deputy-general (forests) in the MEF, claims, "There has not been much progress in protecting the chiru, due to loopholes in the WPA. The existing law allows trade in shahtoosh to flourish. For example, if a trader wants to get ownership certificates for all the shawls, he or she can distribute them to different people and get ownership certificates. Later, the shawls can be collected back and sold without violating rules," said Sharma.

"Once the act has been amended such illegitimate trade will come to an end. It will be illegal even to gift these shawls," explained Sharma. "All the shawls in the country will be registered and sealed. We are also going to make some provisions for the surrender of these shawls. No action will be taken against those who surrender," Sharma added. As of now, any person claiming possession of shahtoosh shawls can be punished under the WPA.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.