Wildlife Extra

Catwalk cashmere threatens snow leopards and other large mammals in Central Asia

old_images/s/saiga-calfA new study has revealed that some of Central Asia’s most spectacular and least-known large mammals, such as the saiga, are being adversely affected by a sharp increase in goat herds for the cashmere trade. Joel Berger/WCS

Central Asia’s large mammals threatened by demand from fashion victims
July 2013. The global demand for cashmere garments is making fashion victims of endangered snow leopards (Panthera uncial) and other native large mammals in Central Asia, reveals new research published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology.

Cashmere trade
The UK is among the top four leading importers of Mongolian cashmere, a trade which has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry since socialist countries such as China and Mongolia have transitioned to free markets. To support global demand for the luxurious lightweight goat hair, local herders across Mongolia, India and China’s Tibetan Plateau have significantly increased livestock production. In Mongolia alone, numbers of domestic goats have grown consistently, from 5 million heads in 1990 to close to 14 million in 2010.

Threat to wild mammals
This growth in livestock is increasing the threats to endangered mammals in Central Asia such as the saiga and chiru antelope, Przewalski horses, ibex, Bactrian camel, argali and Himalayan blue sheep. Domestic goats compete with these native herbivores for the same plant food source. The wild mammals are also suffering from a reduction in their range, displacement to marginal habitats and the risk of being killed by feral and domestic dogs that accompany the herders. Human-animal conflict is also on the increase as livestock and large carnivores such as the endangered snow leopard interact more, leading to retaliatory killings by herders.

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Snow Leopard Trust reveals that some of Central Asia’s most spectacular and least-known large mammals, including the chiru or Tibetan antelope (pictured), are being adversely affected by a sharp increase in goat herds for the cashmere trade. Photo courtesy of Joel Berger/WCS
A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Snow Leopard Trust reveals that some of Central Asia’s most spectacular and least-known large mammals, including the chiru or Tibetan antelope (pictured), are being adversely affected by a sharp increase in goat herds for the cashmere trade. Photo courtesy of Joel Berger/WCS

Snow leopard prey losing ground to domestic sheep and goats
The report is co-authored by an international team comprising Joel Berger and Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar, both of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Whitley Award winner Charudutt Mishra. The latest research by Mishra’s group shows that ultimately, the population of wild sheep and goats determines the population of the snow leopard. As the wild prey of the snow leopard is out competed by livestock, the snow leopard loses ground.

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