Sunday, 24 February 2008

Gunned down for fashion: The animal whose fur is worth more than gold

Here is an article about the Shatoosh shawl - Behind the Shahtoosh shawl – the most exclusive accessory – lies one of the fashion industry’s most guilty secrets: the slaughter of countless rare and beautiful antelope in the Himalayas. The shawls’ woollen fabric, the world’s finest and most exclusive, is illegally harvested from an incredibly rare Tibetan antelope. Shahtoosh dealers claim it is plucked from the down of the mythical toosh bird or is collected from bushes where antelope have brushed past. The truth is less romantic.....
Originally Published by Daily Mail:
When the men first sighted the beautiful baby antelope in the moonlight, it was past three o'clock in the morning. The creatures were only a few hours old and still wobbling about on their spindly little legs. Mothers and grandmothers nuzzled them protectively. A single male stood guard, sniffing the air tentatively for any signs of danger. It was a beautiful, heart-warming sight that could easily have been taken from a David Attenborough documentary - but for what happened next.
A group of six men in a four-wheel-drive truck slowly approached the herd. A rough-looking man lifted an ageing automatic rifle to his eye, took aim and fired. A pregnant antelope dropped to her knees and began twitching violently. The rest of the men in the truck threw back a green tarpaulin and switched on an enormous headlight to bathe the herd with a burning white light. The antelope froze with fright, making them easy targets. In a matter of seconds, the entire herd was gunned down with assault rifles and machine guns. Dozens of antelope lay dead - slaughtered for one of high-fashion's most desirable 'items', the shahtoosh shawl, made from the wool of the chiru antelope.
Coveted by the super-rich and fashionistas alike, shahtoosh has a mystique like no other. Shahtoosh, which means 'king of wool' in Persian, is so fine, light and translucent that a shawl made from it will pass through a wedding ring. It makes cashmere feel like horse-hair and the delicate astrakhan (made from foetal lambs) like an old woollen jumper. Napoleon gave a shahtoosh shawl to Josephine. Indian maharajas gave them to their concubines and Chinese emperors sent armies to plunder them.
Shahtoosh went out of fashion almost a decade ago, shortly after it became illegal and police around the world began to crack down on traders. But in certain circles in the UK, shahtoosh is once again becoming a must-have commodity, with no one knowing or caring where it comes from. Consumers are fuelling a trade that is driving to extinction one of the most beautiful and exotic creatures in the world. It is also driving a parallel and equally illegal boom in poached tiger bones, drugs and arms. "It's a disgusting trade," says Trevor Pickett, of Picketts, one of London's most exclusive leather and scarf boutiques. "We get dealers coming in from time to time, but we always send them on their way. Even if it wasn't illegal, we still would not touch it."
Andy Fisher, head of the Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit, says: "If there is a market for something, then someone will supply it." Twenty years ago shahtoosh was traded on a small scale by local communities. But once the fashion industry adopted it, the trade exploded and so did the poaching. "It is important that people realise what they are supporting when they buy shahtoosh. They are fuelling the poaching of endangered species and supporting organised crime."
High in the mountains of Ladakh, on the border between Tibet and India, lie the most lucrative hunting grounds for the poachers. They slaughter the chiru with automatic weapons mounted on off-road vehicles. Those creatures that escape the bullets are caught in vicious leghold traps. The animals may remain there in agony for days before a hunter arrives to dispatch them. Poachers who lack guns often pursue the animals by motorbike until they die of exhaustion.
Once the antelope are killed, their fleeces are torn from their bodies and a few ounces of wool plucked from their soft fleecy stomachs. Occasionally their horns are used in medicines. The rest of the body has no value except for the occasional meal for a poacher. Attempts have been made to farm chiru, but shearing the antelope proved impossible as the shahtoosh has to be plucked directly out of the animals' skin to be usable. It is also far, far easier to gun the animals down than to tend them. This has led to a free-for-all slaughter on an astonishing scale. Before shahtoosh became fashionable in the early 1990s, more than a million animals roamed the Tibetan plateau. Of these vast herds only about 75,000 antelope now remain, with an estimated 20,000 killed each year by poachers.
Shahtoosh is so light and valuable that it has become almost a parallel currency in the Himalayas and is used to pay for guns, drugs and other illegal wildlife products. Thousands of pounds' worth can easily be hidden inside the lining of a jacket and smuggled over borders with only the slightest chance of being caught, and as such it has become a common 'currency' among crime gangs and terrorist groups, such as Kashmiri separatists. In particular, wildlife experts say that it is a key part of a complicated transaction that involves tiger bones being smuggled into China, via Tibet, where they can fetch huge prices as a black market medicine.
In return, the smugglers are paid in shahtoosh to take back to India, where the market for the fine wool is booming. When the raw wool is smuggled into India from Tibet it has a street value of around £500 a pound. Trafficking tiger bones one way and shahtoosh the other earns the smugglers profit margins of 600 per cent or more.
As a result of this two-way trade, one tiger is killed in India every day. There are now only about 3,000 left in the whole of the sub-continent. "Every shahtoosh shawl has the blood of a tiger on it," says Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
"Two species are being slaughtered for this shameless trade - the chiru and the tiger. Chirus are being killed in their thousands and the tiger pushed to the brink of extinction for the sake of fashion and the greed of a few ruthless wildlife criminals." The wool is eventually smuggled into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where it is woven into fabric.
It is a highly-skilled process, as the fur fibres are only half an inch long and extremely difficult to handle. The shawls are then adorned with the season's most fashionable new patterns ready for sale. In a programme broadcasted on the Animal Planet channel, undercover detective Steve Galster managed to track down a dealer to Dharamshala in northern India. He was selling the scarves for £500, a small fortune in India. These scarves would have been trafficked into Britain, America and Europe, where they would have fetched up to £15,000. Weight for weight, that makes the shawls more valuable than cocaine or gold. Even if smugglers are caught in the UK, the penalties for trading are pitifully low. One dealer was fined £1,500 for selling 138 shawls worth £350,000. That works out at less than £11 per shawl. Small wonder, then, that shahtoosh has become a significant part of the booming £6billion illegal wildlife trade. The trade as a whole is now the third largest illegal activity after drug smuggling and gun running. In the UK, shahtoosh shawls are available if you have the money and the 'right' connections. A TV reporter was recently offered shawls for £3,000 apiece in London. They are also available on the internet. From time to time 'shahtoosh parties' are held where fashionistas meet to show off their shawls and buy the latest designs. Most will know full well where the wool for their scarves comes from, but they peddle a variety of lies so they appear less heartless. They claim that the wool is gathered-from bushes that the antelope use as scratching posts, or is plucked from the down of the mythical 'toosh' bird. They will never admit that they know three young antelope must die so they can wear a single shawl. The Metropolitan Police is aware of the parties, but has yet to make any arrests despite their best efforts. They are, after all, exclusive invitation-only events.
"Some people just want something that they think is 'better' than the next person and they have an awful lot of money to spend on such things,' says Andy Fisher of the Metropolitan Police.
"It does make you wonder what they're thinking of. There are enough exclusive, expensive items out there for them to buy. They do not have to drive a species to extinction."
The Indian and Chinese authorities have belatedly started taking the trade seriously and begun to clamp down on it - mostly, it has to be said, because of the trade's links with organised crime.
In August 2007, the Indian police intercepted 57 shawls worth around £150,000 in Delhi. If convicted, the traffickers face up to seven years in jail.
The Chinese, too, have been stepping up their efforts to stop the slaughter with systematic anti poaching patrols. Given that the chiru Tibetan antelope is the mascot for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it would be very embarrassing for them if they failed to protect one of their country's "national" symbols. The simple truth is that shahtoosh is so valuable that it is an almost irresistible source of money for poverty-stricken Tibetans. But the real driving force behind the trade is rich consumers in the developed world. Italian, Swiss, British and American companies are illegally pedalling the wool whilst Governments in the rest of Europe try to stamp out the trade. "You just have to look at who's buying the shawls,' says Robbie Marsland, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"Only the very rich can afford to buy these shawls. The demand from extravagant consumers has created a cruel and bloody trade, effectively signing a death sentence for these rare and beautiful animals."

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nepalese Hotelier in Kassel, Germany !

Kassel Wilhelmhohetoday, while exiting out from the Kassel Wilhelmhohe train station, my eyes got stuck with one advertisement kept in the exit door of trainstation. This is very normal advertisement for many, but for me it wasreally especial and exciting. While I saw this advertisement, I foundit as my own advertisement therefore I have put it here hoping all youlike to hear the success story of one Nepalese here in Germany.This advertisement was about the Nepalese restaurant in theWilhelmhöhe. Following the advertisement, I went upto the gate ofrestaurant, took some photographs, but could not dare to enter insidesince the restaurant was too expensive and highly standards. We lookedthe menu outside, saw the restuarant decoration from outside. It madeus happy and proud. The name of restaurant is the Himalayas: Nepaliand Indien Restaurant. The proprietor added the name of Indien becausewith this name it might be easier to attract guests. The restaurant is50 meter east of train station on the same premises. There are lots offast food center including Macdonalds and others. With the toughcompetition of other chain fast food center, this Nepalese restauranthas been survived with the quality of services and goods. No other cansurvive in front of nepalese hospitality.The name of proprietor is Gajendra Neuapane. He is young and energeticperson. we would like to salute his endeavor and entrepreneurship. Hissuccess is not only the success of him alone, that is our success too.

What are the similarities and differences in Education systems

All dear esteemed friends Since we have already spent at least one year in Gotttingen, Germany.We are destined to get higher level of education here in Germany atrenowned university like Georg August University. Our education systemin the country in some cases similar to here but in many casesdifferent also. In some parameter our education system is better butin many measures, we are far behind. For example, for theoreticalaspects of Silviculture, Forest Policy, Timber utilisation, probablywe knew better in our respective countries rather than here. But,practical aspects of Forest Inventory, Genetics, SoilSciences,Economics, we learnt many things here. Also, presentation,group tasks/assignments, opportunities found here is quite practicaland better here, that will certainly increase our motivation, workingattitudes and capacity in future.In these aspects, I would like to request you to share your views andopinions with the members of effortsforchange groups.For that I would like to request you to provide opinions concentratingmore on:
a)what are the similarities and differences with the teaching methods,principles, learning environments, student-teacher interactions, examsystems etc in our respective countries and Germany?
b) How do you rate education system here in Germany?
c) What do you think about the lifelong utility of learnings here?Does it help in your professional career? if yes, in which aspects andupto what extent?
d)What did impress you much here? What did you learn at the most?
e)Do you have any suggestions to anyone regarding improvement ineducation systems here or in our countries?
f) others..........Expecting your valuable comments and opinions in this.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Remembering Dinesh Thapa for his untiring efforts to develop Community Forestry and Livelihood of poor people

When I used to remember my days working at the District Forest Officer, I have plenty of important events, people, incidents to remember. During my 10 years of professional jobs working as the Forest Officer, in Nepal, I have encountered many people, and faced many problems. Some characters are quite good and some are bad however both of these character have strong impressions to me. During my jobs, I have served mostly in Dang, Achham, Sarlahi and Doti ranging from Terai to High hills.
I have intereacted with many people including fellow staffs seniors and subordinate, politician, social worker, journalists. Some people are very supportive to me. They have shown great trust to me. They believed us in the exteme cases. They never thought that we can lie and do bad. They had blind faith on us. We were believed even when we were wrong. Some people were very critical to us. Some were extremely biased. For them, whatever good we used to do, they used to find mistakes on it. Between these two extremes, I have some profound memory working with two noteable characters in the Sarlahi. They showed their great support and faith on us when we were doing right for the development of forestry sector and upliftment of people's livelihood. And, on the following days, when something wrong occured, they did not sit behind from protesting us. Working with these kinds of people, supporting good activities and strongly opposing the weaknesses and mistakes, used to be the source of motivation and encouragement to me and others.
This time, I will talk about an old man who is around 55 years old, but he is so energetic, he left us behind in many cases. The name of this 55 years young(!) man is Dinesh Thapa (Chhetri). He is old but he was always ready to work for the people and for the forest. He has been backed with strong public support. He was the elected chairperson of Bihani Community Forestry User Group, Murtiya-3, Sarlahi. This place lies around 14 kilometer south from East West Highway. They fought several years with district forest office demanding the handover of Community Forest to the user group. Many DFOs, AFOs, Rangers provided plain words to them but did not hand over the rights to manage their forests by themselves. They rallied, protested, advocated but the District Forest Office did not hear their voice. The DFO were not able to convince their fellow staffs to hand over the forest to the community. Handover of the forest to user group is loosing their rights.
One day, we became able to hand over the forest to 4 different user groups. I used to remember the day, when we fought against the illegal pressure from local maoist (then rebellion) and managed to hand over four community forests to 4 different users groups of that region. On the day of handover, there were big rally organised in support of District Forest Office. People decorated us with the garlands of flowers. They chanted slogan in favour of us and our office. The people who were extremely against the office, were honoring us and chanting loud slogans for us! What a change! That shows their respect can be won if we work for them.
Unknowingly I deviated from the topic. Sorry for that!
After the hand over, these 22 hactare of forest (90% Dalbergia sissoo plantation), they were conserving and managing forest prudentally. They have allocated land to all 73 members of their user groups to grow improved grass. Dinesh Thapa brought seeds and seedlings from several places and grew there and distributed to all members freely. His endeavors worked out. People, mostly farmers, are getting higher quality grasses to their livestock which increases the productivity of their livestock. Once milk dry zone of Sarlahi, is now selling milk to the surrounding villages. The coverage and diversity of forest have been tremendously improved in short times. Once disappeared 22 species of NTFPs reappeared there. That might be retrogression or succesion in ecological term. His community forest used to be visited by academicians, foresters, social worker and others as the open university for the forestry and livelihood improvements. He has vision and courage to materialize his vision into field. He has inspired the true empowerment of women and Madhesis since long time. If everybody used to behave and act like him in the aspects of inclusion of women and madhesis, there would not be such a hue and cry about Madhesh issue in Nepal.
Besides, he leased out barren land from Sagarnath Forestry Development Projects and cultivated Citronella, Pamarossa, Chamommile and Asparagus. He has involved all the poor people of that region on the cultivation of it. He was expecting the upliftment of the livelihood of poors with the production of high demanded NTFPs. He used to work hard on the field rather than just preaching. People can find him in three places, mostly inside his community forest, if not there in leased out land for Asparagus cultivation, if not there then certainly in some places such as meeting, lobbying, protesting, training etc for the forest and livelihood.
He has been inspiring other people to work and unite for the community forestry. He inspired many to grow NTFPs in their land and in forest too.
Moreover, he was phenomenal to stop the illegal encroachment and smuggling of forest products from that region. This region was quite notorious for illegal smuggling of forest products, but now this is almost peace zone without illegal activities. All these credit goes to Dinesh Thapa, who spent tolls and toils to the betterment of forestry and the people. He was nicknamed as Ban Thapa (Forest Thapa) for his involvement in this sector. He has been honoured by several organisation including District Forest Office, FECOFUN and several NGOs and civil society. Everybody is willing to acquire good name via his hard work and fame. This short memory might follow the same intention. My salutation goes to him.
District Forest Office had several times recommended him and his community forestry user group for the national award such as "Band Devi Prize" established by NFA and "Bir Ganeshma Singh Prize" by minsitry. Me as the government representative in DFO, Sarlahi had fulfilled all the forms and requirements, attached all the social, biological and economical achievements of that CF and Dinesh Thapa and submitted to Nepal Foresters Association and the Ministry. Since our seniors do not like to visit the sites and they decide on the plain recommendation of some power broker, I submitted the raw (unedited) video showing the forest, their activities and all the aspects needed to select it for the prize. But, unfortunately, this CFUG had never been selected for the prize. Because, this was not the choice of power broker and the so-called experts, advocates or the illegal contractors inside.
Anyway, he has been gaining popular support from the people of Sarlahi. For which he used to call that this is more important than few medals, certificates and money as a prize. His endeavor can never be rated lowly on the criteria of our rewarding system.
I do not know about the recent progresses there. And, also I have not been in contact with him since nearly two years. Being out of the country, I am not being able to get connected with Dinesh Thapa and his community, since they are not connected and do not have ability to internet and I do not have time and patience to use postal services.
Anyway, wherever I am, I always respect and greet the untiring endeavors of Dinesh Thapa and his team in flourishing community forestry and watchguarding nearby national forest. We need only few Dinesh Thapas to improve the whole scenario of forest and forestry in Nepal. Do you know few other Dinesh Thapas who has been working for the sector selflessly?