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updated 9/15/2012 8:46:28 AM ET 2012-09-15T12:46:28

Most of us covet cashmere items, and now a new certification -- "Wildlife Friendly" -- adds even more appeal to the soft, luxurious material.

The certification, granted by the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, is the brainchild of the Grupo Cost del Rio Colorado, a cooperative that works to minimize the impact of goat-herding in what's known as the Patagonian Steppe region of Argentina and Chile.

Mammals found in the wild there include mountain lions, the Patagonian hare, gray foxes, a camel-like animal called the guanaco, Pampas cats and more.

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Large numbers of cashmere goats, the source of cashmere wool, unfortunately can hurt the natural ecosystem by taking up habitat and consuming plant materials that other animals rely upon. Herders also tend to go after goat predators, like the Pampas cat and other wild carnivores, which may see the cashmere goats more as dinner instead of a pretty sweater source.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the new Wildlife Friendly certification distinguishes that type of cashmere from others.

"This certification validates the efforts of the cooperative members, who have made significant sacrifices in trying to minimize the impact of cashmere production on this magnificent yet fragile landscape," Andres Novaro of WCS's Patagonian and Andean Steppe Program, was quoted as saying in a press release.

"Our recent success will serve as an example of how local businesses can be balanced with sustainable practices."

To get such a certification, applicants "must commit to conserve threatened wildlife while contributing to the economic well-being of rural communities," according to the WCS. "Goods and services must undergo a strict peer-review process before certification can be granted."

The goal is to make cashmere more sustainable, such that goat herd sizes match the carrying capacity of their lands, goats are kept in excellent health, and that guard dogs be used to minimize livestock-wildlife conflicts.

Participants in the program have also made a commitment to not kill small cats, including the highly endangered (and very cute) Andean cat.

"Now consumers of high-quality cashmere products can contribute to the long-term health of Patagonia's wildlife by buying 'Wildlife-Friendly' products," said Julie Kunen, Director of WCS's Latin America and Caribbean Program, "We're proud to be a supporter of the Grupo Costa del Río Colorado as they set a standard for sustainability for this remarkable region."

Middle photo: Goats in the Andean Patagonia Steppe Landscape. Credit: WCS

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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