The rising demand for cashmere is seriously threatening the future for snow leopards and other endangered species in Central Asia, according to a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology.
The study, which was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Snow Leopard Trust, found that the number of domestic cashmere goats in Mongolia alone has tripled in the past two decades to meet the demand for this fiber.
Unfortunately, as the demand in the West continues to grow, so does the number of goats whose herds are expanding into habitat that was once abundant with wildlife. According to the study, wild grazers are now left with less than five percent of available land, with domestic sheep, goat and livestock herds consuming the other 95 percent across the areas they studied in China’s Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and India.
Now snow leopards and other lesser known species, including wild yak, chiru, saiga, Bactrian camel, kiang, takhi, kuhlan and gazelles are being displaced and left with less and less space to survive, while some species have become victims of attacks by herders’ dogs, and still others are left vulnerable to the spread of disease from domesticated livestock.
Unfortunately for snow leopards, who are already considered highly endangered, they’re not only left with less habitat and fewer prey, but they’re turning to goats for food as a result, which has caused increased conflicts with herders and ended in retaliatory killings.
“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,” said lead author, Joel Berger, a biologist for the WCS and professor at the University of Montana. “Herders are doing what we would do – just trying to improve their livelihoods, and who can blame them?”
WCS noted that the point of the study isn’t to shut down the cashmere trade, but to work with communities to preserve their livelihoods and protect wildlife at the same time, in addition to raising awareness among consumers about where cashmere comes from and how it impacts 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,” stated the organization.
Charudutt Mishra, one of the study’s co-authors, told the Guardian that a few things that have helped so far include offering bonuses for goods produced by communities that don’t kill snow leopards or poach wild animals, improving corrals to reduce predation and vaccinating herds to stop the spread of disease, which could eventually lead to a green labeling scheme on products.
“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 told the BBC.
WCS added that it will be working with the the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP), a public-private partnership initiative that addresses sustainability issues of select supply chains.
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