updated 2/28/2008 9:05:06 AM ET 2008-02-28T14:05:06

At least 600 rare Himalayan goats — famed for their pashmina wool, also known as cashmere — have died and thousands face starvation after their desert habitat was blanketed with snow during the region's worst snowfall in three decades, authorities said Thursday.

Over 100,000 cashmere goats have faced starvation as winter stocks of fodder ran out after heavy snow covered pastures in the remote Ladakh region near the border with China last month.

"We have reports of over 600 deaths due to starvation so far, and the mortality is mostly among young ones," said Tsering Dorjay, a top official in the region.

Dorjay said the death rate could be much higher because authorities were still unable to get emergency supplies to the worst-hit Tegazong area, where nearly 60,000 goats were starving and scores of pregnant goats had miscarried.

Nomads and Tibetan refugees herd the goats in the remote and barren area. Despite being high in the Himalayas, Ladakh usually receives only about 4 inches of precipitation a year.

Heavy snowfall
However, this year the Himalayan region witnessed the heaviest snowfall in the last three decades, with about 2 feet of snow accumulating at many places in the area.

Local officials said they approached the Indian government for immediate help, but "nothing is forthcoming," said Dorjay.

The highly prized wool is used to make famed pashmina shawls and cashmere, which takes its name from the Kashmir region, and is a major source of revenue in the area.

Earlier this month, the government sent dozens of truckloads of fodder to the area, but the consistent bad weather has not allowed the air force to airlift supplies by helicopter.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the area in its entirety.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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