Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade
A rising global demand for cashmere is putting the snow leopard and other native wildlife in Central Asia under threat, according to a new study.
Domestic cashmere goats are raised in many parts of Central Asia for their luxurious fur coats. Although cashmere production is not new, the global demand for this product has increased dramatically, and goat numbers have almost tripled in some areas in the last 20 years.
The new study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, reports that the increasing goat population is encroaching on the habitat of the snow leopard and its prey. Nearly all the forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and northern India is now being consumed by goats, sheep and other livestock, leaving only tiny amounts for native herbivores such as the Tibetan antelope, saiga, wild yak and Przewalski's horse.
A decline in these native prey species can lead snow leopards to hunt goats, so leading to increased conflict with humans as people seek to protect their herds. Other threats to native species include disease transfer from livestock and the killing of wild animals by herders' dogs.
Cashmere production is an important source of income for many local communities in Central Asia.
According to Dr Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust, "Cashmere production is a complicated human issue. Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem."
Dr Mishra suggests that 'green labeling' of cashmere clothes could help increase awareness of the issue among consumers. "One of the intentions is to bring together some of the local communities who produce cashmere and the buyers from the international market. We want to address everyone's concerns and develop a programme where we can make grazing more sustainable, and that allows for wild and domestic animals to co-exist," he said.
According to Dr Mishra and the other authors of the study, the iconic species of the region's mountains and steppes will become victims of fashion unless action is taken on both a global and a local scale.
See more at ARKive.org.
Snow leopard image via Shutterstock.