Police arrested four dealers and seized hundreds of shawls made from the wool of endangered Tibetan antelopes after raiding shops in the Thai capital, wildlife officials said Tuesday.
More than 250 shahtoosh shawls, the wool for which can only be obtained by killing the animals, were seized in three separate raids Monday in the heart of Bangkok's business district, said Schwann Tunhikorn, deputy director of Thailand's National Parks Wildlife and Plants Department.
Officers of the newly formed Southeast Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network — a collaboration among regional law enforcement agencies aimed at quashing illegal wildlife trafficking — were acting on a tip, tracking a shahtoosh syndicate that spans several countries, he said.
"Thailand is committed to the conservation of wildlife and our efforts are not only limited to our indigenous wildlife," Schwann said.
Three Indian nationals and one Thai were arrested in the raid, he said.
Poaching has drastically reduced the Tibetan antelope population. In 1900, around a million antelopes lived in the wild; today, there may be as few as 50,000, according to WildAid, a nonprofit group dedicated to ending the illegal trade in wildlife.
Since 1979, the Tibetan antelope has been listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, making the trade in shahtoosh illegal, WildAid said in a statement.
The World Conservation Union also classifies the animal as vulnerable to extinction in its Red List of Threatened Species.
Yet despite conservation campaigns, strict laws and high-profile criminal cases, the shahtoosh trade remains strong and the shawls can be sold in Japan and Europe for upward of $12,000 each.
Last year, Swiss officials confiscated 537 shahtoosh shawls, WildAid said, and the United Nations has said wool from the antelope is still being smuggled from China into India.
The shahtoosh raids mark one of the first successes of the Southeast Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network, which was formed in December to stamp out illegal crossborder wildlife trade in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"This level of cooperation on wildlife law enforcement is a new phenomenon in Southeast Asia," said Steven Galster of WildAid-Thailand.