Endangered Wildlife Threatened By Cashmere Trade
July 25, 2013

Snow Leopard Among Endangered Species Threatened By Growing Cashmere Trade

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Growing demand for cashmere in Western markets is threatening several types of endangered creatures, including the snow leopard native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, claims new research appearing in the August issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

According to BBC News science reporter Melissa Hogenboom, the number of domestic cashmere goats in regions of Central Asia have nearly tripled over the past two decades in order to fuel demand for clothes made of this type of fiber.

Those goals are "encroaching on the natural habitats of the snow leopard and their natural prey," Hogenboom explained. As a result, they are placing not only the snow leopard at risk but several other types of creatures as well, including the wild yak, the Tibetan antelope, the saiga, the Bactrian camel and the gazelle.

In the study, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Snow Leopard Trust found that wildlife from the Tibetan Plateau to Mongolia are being put in danger as a result of efforts to expand goat herds and increase profits. The ecological impact of goat herd growth include conflicts with pastoralists, canine predation on wildlife, retaliatory snow leopard killings and displacement of wildlife away from critical food habitats, the study authors explained in a statement.

Researchers including WCS biologist and University of Montana professor Joel Berger, Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar of WCS Mongolia, and Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust conducted fieldwork in India, western China and Mongolia. They noted that their findings help support previous economic data including herder profits, changes in livestock numbers, and the relative abundance of wildlife in those regions.

"The consequences are dramatic and negative for iconic species that governments have signed legislation to protect, yet the wildlife is continually being squeezed into a no-win situation," explained Berger, lead author on the study. "Herders are doing what we would do - just trying to improve their livelihoods, and who can blame them?"

"The purpose of the study is to raise awareness among western consumers about the origins of cashmere and its growing impact on wildlife. The authors suggest that the study should serve as the beginning of a dialog among the garment industry, cashmere herders, and conservationists to address and mitigate these impacts," the WCS added.

The Society said that they have already launched an initiative to help solve the problem. The initiative, the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP), is a public-private partnership with the goal of addressing sustainability issues during various fashion, cosmetic and jewelry industry supply chains - including cashmere.

"Cashmere production is a complicated human issue," Mishra told the BBC. "Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem."

"By improving our understanding of the relationship between indigenous herders, local ecology and global markets, we can implement policies at the national and international level which are better designed to protect biodiversity while supporting the livelihoods of local communities," he added.