Rare Tibetan Antelope continues to be hunted by the hundreds to make expensive $20,000 scarves

An increasing demand for the scarves made from their extremely soft, light, and warm underfur is threatening their population

                            Rare Tibetan Antelope continues to be hunted by the hundreds to make expensive $20,000 scarves
(Source : Getty Images)

A rare antelope is being hunted down by the hundreds to make expensive $20,000 scarves that have become incredibly popular with opulent Westerners.

The Tibetan Antelope, a species found almost exclusively in the Changtang area of Tibet, is being hunted for its extremely soft, light, and warm underfur called shahtoosh, which can only be obtained after the animal's death, and which is almost always illegal to import, trade, or even own. It takes four Tibetan antelopes to make just one shahtoosh shawl or scarf.

Shahtoosh, which is a Persian word meaning "the king of fine wools", is then used to weave luxury shawls in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. And despite strict controls on the trade of shahtoosh products, there is still enough demand to see the prices set anywhere between $1,000 and $20,000.

There is still a global demand for their fur (China Photos/Getty Images)

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which sets the conversation status for wildlife species, global demand for shahtoosh has seen the population of the Tibetan antelope slashed by 90% during the last Century. 

Once believed to be numbering in the millions, by the 1990s, poaching meant their numbers had dropped to just 75,000. However, recent awareness of their plight, stronger habitat protections in China, and better enforcement of the animal's strict CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) listing, which bars any international trade of the species, has improved their plight.

However, National Geographic reported that, despite these measures, Swiss officials have still been confiscating quite a lot of shahtoosh. Between 2015 and 2018 alone, customs officers are said to have seized the equivalent of more than 800 Tibetan Antelopes from travelers primarily from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East. The modern design on some of them confirmed that they had been recently made as well.

Conservation efforts have meant that their population is slowly increasing (China Photos/Getty Images)

It's surprisingly acceptable to own as well, as one can glean from Martha Stewart's comments from as recently as October 2017. Speaking to the New York Times, she explained shahtoosh was a must during her travels. "I always take a very comfortable shawl, a shahtoosh," she said. "They weigh almost nothing, and they’re as warm as a down comforter…it goes through a wedding ring."

The wedding ring comment she mentioned has to do with the so-called "ring test" used to distinguish shahtoosh from thicker fabrics like pashmina, and which makes the fabric so valuable among the ultra-wealthy.

While the Tibetan Antelope has the same international level of protection as, for example, elephants, tigers, and rhinos, no full census of their population has ever been completed, so any population figures are still just rough estimates. But it's not all bad news.

Aimin Wang, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s China country director, claimed their population is now numbering above 300,000 — a fourfold increase from their population in the 90s — and the hope is that the number only continues to increase in the coming years.