Hitting fur in the high Himalayas

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2006:

NEW DELHI, CHENNAI–Rajasthan police on
February 3, 2006 arrested Nepal-based Tibetan
wildlife trafficker Tshering Nema, also known as
Neema Kampa, in north Delhi, finding him in
alleged possession of the skins of 34 leopards
and four otters.
“The consignment was en route to Siliguri
in West Bengal,” reported the Times of India
News Network, “to be then dispatched to Tibet
through Nepal.”
Identified by the Indo Asian News Service
as “an associate of notorious poacher Sansar
Chand,” Nema is believed to have been a kingpin
in the gang that in 2004 exterminated tigers
within the Sariska tiger reserve, significantly
reduced the Ranthambore reserve population, and
poached down the populations at 12 of India’s 25
other tiger reserves.
Nema allegedly relayed poached pelts to
Tibet via his father, Tamdin Vangyal of Nepal.
Rajasthan Police spokesperson A.K. Jain said that
Vangyal was also in Delhi when Nema was nabbed,
but eluded arrest.

“We have learnt that Vangyal was earlier
arrested in Nepal with a consignment of 100 rhino
skins, but was released,” Jain said.
First arrested for tiger pelt trafficking
in 1974, ringleader Sansar Chand drew a
five-year prison term in 2004, was released on
bail pending appeal, jumped bail, and was
re-arrested on June 30, 2005.
The magnitude of Indian wildlife
trafficking into Tibet became apparent when
“Tibetan officials in 2004 intercepted 32 tiger
skins, 579 leopard skins, and 665 otter skins
in one shipment,” recounted BBC News.
“The consignment clearly came from
India,” added Sridhar Kumaraswami of Asian Age.
“Investigators found a copy of the Delhi edition
of a leading national newspaper stuck to the back
of the skins.”
Jailing Chand and several associates only
slowed the traffic. On September 2, 2005, the
Environmental News Service reported, the Royal
Nepal Army intercepted five tiger skins, 36
leopard skins, 238 otter skins and 113 kilos of
tiger and leopard bones in the Rasuwa district of
Nepal, bordering Tibet.
While tiger, leopard, and otter skins
are smuggled into Tibet, the pelts of endangered
Tibetan antelope, called chiru in India, are
smuggled out. The pelts are shaved and the fine
fur woven into a soft fabric called shahtoosh,
used in shawls selling for up to $15,000–twice
the price of a Chinese car.
Swiss customs in June 2005 seized 537
shahtoosh shawls in one shipment. The pelts of
from three to five chiru were used to make each
Increased coordination of Indian and
Chinese anti-poaching and anti-trafficking work
has paid off.
In August 2005, International Fund for
Animal Welfare China representative Aster Xiang
Li wrote, “The Kekexili Special Anti-Poaching
Force unearthed more than 100 Tibetan antelope
pelts during a raid. Also in August, New Delhi
customs officials discovered an unspecified
amount of shahtoosh wool mixed in with bales of
sheep wool.”
While Indian courts have only just begun
to take poaching and wildlife trafficking
seriously, Chinese sentences can be stiff. In
December 2005, for example, the Xinhua News
Agency reported that a Tibet court had issued
13-year prison terms to retired doctor Cering
Toinzhub, 57, and Baima Cering, apparently his
hunting guide. They allegedly shot 59 chiru in
February and March 2005.
Until very recently, however, market
demand for poached pelts was strong enough to
encourage poachers and traffickers throughout the
Himalayas to take the risk of receiving one of
the occasional heavy sentences in a trade that
was scarcely hidden.
Soon after the Nepalese pelt seiz-ures,
the Environmental Investigation Agency and
Wildlife Protection Society of India released
videos and photographs documenting the extent of
the Tibetan traffic.

Ceremonial robes

“In 46 shops surveyed in Lhasa,” the
Tibetan capital, “54 leopard skin costumes
known locally as chubas, and 24 tiger skin
chubas were openly displayed,” summarized the
Environmental News Service. “Seven whole fresh
leopard skins were presented for sale and,
within 24 hours, investigators were offered
three whole, fresh tiger skins.”
At regional horse festivals held in four
Tibetan cities during August 2005, the
investigators videotaped Tibetan officials, a
teacher and children wearing tiger skins.
The trade involves nearby parts of China
proper. “In one street alone in Linxia, China,
more than 60 whole snow leopard skins and over
160 fresh leopard skins were openly on display,
with many more skins rolled up in the back,” the
EIA investigators told the Environmental News
Service. “They also found over 1,800 otter skins.”
Time magazine in April published a photo
of chanting Tibetan Buddhists wearing tiger and
leopard skins. The photo prompted the Dalai
Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism,
to join with Care for the Wild International and
the Wildlife Trust of India in speaking out
against the killing and trafficking.
“It is in the Pali and Sanskrit tradition
to show love and compassion for all living
beings,” the Dalai Lama said at a New Delhi
press conference. “Because of our follies a
large number of our animals are killed, and we
must stop this.”
Said Care for the Wild chief executive
Barbara Maas, “If it was just us saying, ‘Oh
please don’t do it,’ I’m not sure it would do
much good. His Holiness will make all the
Long criticized for not speaking out more
on animal issues, the Dalai Lama experimented
with vegetarianism in 1995, then returned to
vegetarianism with more evident conviction early
in 2005.
“When you go back to your respective
places, remember what I said, and never use,
sell, or buy wild animals, their products or
derivatives,” the Dalai Lama said, according to
the London Independent.
“The Dalai Lama has been speaking to the
Tibetans about not eating meat and saving
wildlife,” affirmed Seattle practicing Tibetan
Buddhist Eileen Weintraub in an e-mail to ANIMAL
PEOPLE, after joining an estimated 100,000
fellow devotees at the 2006 Kalachakra
celebration of Tibetan Buddhism in Amravati,
Andhra Pradesh, India.
The events this year were “all
vegetarian,” Weintraub said, with “no chickens
for sale, no furs, no overloaded bullocks.
“Many elderly people had come down from
Tibet to see the Dalai Lama, who still cannot
visit Tibet,” Weintraub elaborated, “and he
asked them to help protect the wildlife. The
Wildlife Trust of India also postered the event
in Tibetan. The Dalai Lama spoke almost angrily
about the Chinese destruction of native wildlife
and their treatment of animals. He mentioned
that six people had died during the Kalachakra
due to old age, and that we should pray for them.
“However,” he said, “the Indian
government killed many stray dogs before the
event [in violation of Indian law], in order to
‘clean up’ the area, and who, the Dalai Lama
asked, would pray for them? He asked us to do
this. He spoke of an insect that he tried
protecting from the Kalachakra crowds, to no
avail, but joked that it is hard to find
compassion for mosquitoes.”
At the Kalachakra, Weintraub helped to
introduce members of Tibetan Volunteers for
Animals to representatives of various chapters of
the Indian organization People for Animals.
More than 7,000 Tibetans attended the
Kala-chakra, many of them trekking illegally
through insurrection-torn Nepal on unmarked
“On January 31, two weeks after the
Kala-chakra, the first report emerged from Tibet
of someone burning furs,” the Independent
recounted. “The movement quickly snowballed.
People have been emerging from their homes,” in
the depth of winter, “and burning furs and
animal skins worth as much as £6,000 in the
streets. Many have given up their chubas,
traditional robes that can cost the equivalent of
two years’ wages for the average Tibetan, and
watched happily as they went up in smoke. Not
only tiger skins, but also traditional Tibetan
chubas lined with leopard, otter and fox fur are
being burnt.
“Reports from within Tibet say that over
the past two weeks the price of tiger skins and
other furs has dropped drastically.”
“For the last five days, during the
great prayer festival of Molam Quinmo, people
have been burning Tibetan garments made from
animal furs,” Wildlife Trust of India
representative Pasang Lhamu Bhutia confirmed to
the Times of India.
While the conflagrations may mark a
turning point in the fight against poaching and
wildlife trafficking, they also embarrassed the
Chinese government.
“The recent craze for the robes has been
driven by a different, urban section of Tibetan
society,” reported The Independent. “While most
Tibetans are still poor, in the cities there is
growing wealth, and that has fuelled a fashion
for the robes.”
“This trend has less to do with old
customs than with new money,” World Wildlife
Fund China director Dawa Tsering told The
Customers for fur chupas include not only
Tibetans, but also “Chinese people traveling to
Tibet especially to buy tiger skins to decorate
their homes, and even some Europeans,” The
Independent alleged.
“Although it appears that it is the Dalai
Lama alone who has the moral authority to turn
Tibetans so dramatically against animal skins,
his involvement is causing trouble with the
Chinese authorities,” The Independent continued,
“who regard the exiled spiritual leader as a
threat, despite his calls in recent years for
Reported Yudhajit Shankar Das, New Delhi
correspondent to The Statesman, of Kolkata, on
February 17, “According to sources close to the
Wildlife Trust of India in Dharamshala, large
numbers of troops and police are patrolling the
streets of Rebkong Quinghai Province, to prevent
a bonfire of skins that was originally scheduled
for February 12. The Chinese authorities, who
have banned even possession of the Dalai Lama’s
picture, apparently saw the planned gathering and
bonfire as a sign of support for the ousted
“The Chinese government reportedly banned
the burnings last week,” added Ashwini Bhatia of
Associated Press, “and, according to an Indian
animal rights group, arrested nine people for
‘public unrest and colluding with the Dalai
“An estimated $75 million worth of animal
skins have been burnt in eastern Tibet alone,”
35-year-old monk Lobsang Choephal told Bhatia.
The monk bootlegged out of Tibet video footage
showing “thousands of Tibetans gathered in the
Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet, throwing
traditional Tibetan dresses lined with animal fur
into a giant bonfire,” Bhatia wrote.

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