The King of Shawls is Endangered
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
April 11, 2016 | Sarah Friedland
The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) http://www.tibettravel.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/26.jpg Wiki definition: "Shahtoosh (also written shahtush, a Persian word meaning "king of fine wools") is the name given to a specific kind of shawl, which is woven with the down hair of the Tibetan antelope (chiru), by master craftsmen and women of Kashmir. The Shahtoosh shawl is now a banned item with possession and sale being illegal in most countries for the Chiru is an endangered species under CITES. However, the weaving of Shahtoosh shawls continues in secret in Kashmir due to high demand by western buyers. The estimated market value of one Shahtoosh shawl in the western market is around $5000–6000. Shahtoosh is the world's finest wool having the lowest micron count, followed by Pashmina." High in the Himalaya Mountains, the endangered Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) is killed for its parts. Their fine wool - called shahtoosh - is used to make beautiful, warm shawls and male horns are kept as trophies. Up to five Tibetan antelopes must be killed to make a single shawl (National Fish and Wildlife Research Laboratory, 2002). Despite laws prohibiting the poaching and trade of these animals and their products, illegal activity surrounding the sale of shahtoosh shawls continues to happen all over the world. The best way to reduce the occurrence of Tibetan antelope killings is to avoid the purchase of the products created with their parts by recognizing the difference between shahtoosh and other wools. The pashmina fiber diameter is between 12 - 16 microns and the shahtoosh fiber diameter is between 10 - 12 microns. Shahtoosh is most commonly mistaken for pashmina, a wool from the Kashmir goat that is not killed, but the hair of the goats are brushed off. An easy way of telling apart these two wools is by observing the fringe on the shawl. Shahtoosh shawls typically have a short self-fringe, while pashmina shawls have a longer twisted, tasseled, braided, or single-knotted fringe. Additionally, the weaving of shahtoosh shawls is noticeably different than that of pashmina. Shahtoosh shawls most commonly use a diamond weave, also occasionally used for pashmina products. However, the diamond pattern in the shahtoosh fabric is much harder to distinguish and often requires a magnifying glass to see because of the small diameter of the wool.
Other, more arduous ways of distinguishing pashmina from shahtoosh require the use of microscopes. The cell structure of the hairs are quite different. The medullar cells of Tibetan antelope wool completely fill the hair shaft and are rounded; pashmina medullar cells do not fill the entire diameter of the hair and are difficult to differentiate (National Fish and Wildlife Research Laboratory, 2002). The cellular structure of other parts of the hairs differ between the wools, as well. For more information on these disparities, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Services website.
If you find yourself in the market for a shawl, make sure to ask questions before buying. What type of wool was used? Where was the shawl imported from? These questions can help end the poaching epidemic and save the Tibetan antelope from extinction.