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Endangered antelope killed for high-end fashion

Antelope
The Tibetan antelope, also known as the chiru, lives in the rugged mountains  
July 5, 1998
Web posted at: 3:59 p.m. EDT (1559 GMT)

(CNN) -- Environmentalists are ringing the alarm bell about the fate of the Tibetan antelope, saying the demand for the animals' precious cashmere wool in the world fashion market has led to a deadly threat by poachers who are hunting down the animal, sometimes killing hundreds of them at a time.

Unlike other cashmere wool, which can be sheared off an animal, the antelope's sought-after shatoosh, or underwool, is extracted after killing the creature in its winter coat.

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The World Wide Fund for Nature has urged tourists not to buy souvenirs made of shatoosh, and U.S. and international authorities have been cracking down on illegal sales in high-end boutiques and department stores.

While the Tibetan antelope -- also known as chiru -- has been hunted for centuries by nomads, it is really the fashion world that has led to a major demand for the wool and the resulting endangerment.

A shatoosh shawl, for instance, can cost up to $8,500 in upmarket fashion stores -- and that means a big incentive for the poachers.

shawl
Shatoosh shawls are being sold nationwide in department stores and in high-end boutiques  

In light of such pressures, the numbers of the chiru have dwindled rapidly. Earlier this century, herds of 20,000 animals were common -- today, a group of 2,000 is a rare sight.

To help the chiru and other wildlife, China has established the Chang Tang reserve, a 120,000 square mile nature sanctuary.

Education, too, could help the endangered chiru, say the experts, who are pointing out that customers are unlikely to by shatoosh products if they know that the animals have to be killed for the precious wool.

Reporter Miles O'Brien contributed to this report.

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