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Some of the world’s most spectacular yet little-known mammals are poised to become “fashion victims” of the booming cashmere trade, according to a study in the August 2013 issue of Conservation Biology. Lucrative demand for the luxurious fiber has driven up the numbers of wool-producing goats in the remote highlands and steppes of Central Asia, where 90 percent of the world’s cashmere originates. The population boom has one “striking yet indirect and unintended” consequence: the displacement of already-endangered animals to the brink of existence. Snow leopards, wild yaks, Przewalski’s horses, saiga antelopes, and other rare species endemic to Mongolia, India, and China’s Tibetan Plateau struggle for survival amid increased conflicts with herders, attacks by their dogs, retaliatory killings on predators, and dwindling forage supplies, researchers say.

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A collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society and Snow Leopard Trust, the study emerged from fieldwork in India, western China, and Mongolia, combined with economic data such as herder profits, changes in livestock numbers, and the relative abundance of wildlife.

“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,” says Joel Berger, a WCS biologist and lead author of the study. “Herders are doing what we would do—just trying to improve their livelihoods, and who can blame them?”

“Rather than serving as symbols of success, these species will become victims of fashion,” says the WCS’s Peter Zahler.

WCS is addressing the issue by working with the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform, a public-private partnership that tackles sustainability issues in the fashion, cosmetics, and jewelry supply chains.

“In the absence of commitment across global and local scales, the iconic wildlife of the world’s highest mountains and great steppes will cease to persist as they have for millennia, says Peter Zahler, WCS deputy director for Asia programs. “Rather than serving as symbols of success, these species will become victims of fashion.”

+ Conservation Biology

+ Wildlife Conservation Society

[Via Ecotextile News]