After years of delay, the US government has finally listed the Tibetan antelope, or chiru, as “endangered” under the US Endangered Species Act, making it much easier to prosecute anyone selling the antelope’s wool in the US.
This move follows the filing of a petition in 1999 by environmental organizations with the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the antelope as endangered. Tibetan antelopes were decimated in the 1960s and 1970s by the People’s Liberation Army and more recently by Muslim, Chinese and Tibetan poachers. For decades, the Chinese government did little to protect this animal and Tibetans formed volunteer brigades to protect them, which is now the subject of a powerful movie by Chinese film director Lu Chuan, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol.
ICT found that Fish and Wildlife had violated their own regulations by not taking action on the 1999 petition, and were thus vulnerable to legal action, if necessary. Although Fish & Wildlife had stated had stated in 2003 that endangered listing was warranted, the department had missed several regulatory deadlines requiring them to act on their recommendations. ICT obtained pro bono legal services from the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, who contacted Fish and Wildlife to lay the groundwork for a lawsuit.
ICT also mobilized its membership, asking them to write directly to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Within weeks, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would list the chiru as endangered, thus avoiding legal action.
Shahtoosh, the fur from the Tibetan antelope’s underbelly, is considered to be one of the finest animal fibers in the world. The demand for shahtoosh fuels a lucrative illegal trade that starts in Tibet with the poachers, spans to India with the manufacturing of shahtoosh shawls, and ends in the fashion centers of the United States and Europe. The killing of these animals continues to thrive despite conservation and enforcement efforts by the governments of China, India, and United States, and international covenants that prohibit the international trade of the fur shawls.
There is still much work to do to help the Tibetan antelope thrive as a species, and ICT will continue to work with and support environmental groups on the front line of that work,” said John Ackerly, President of ICT. “For now, we are happy that one small chapter of this struggle is finally behind us.”