Leopards and goats

by Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi

Black and white thinking (Issue II/2022)

Snow leopards live near the inhospitable peaks of the high mountains of Asia. Their fire blue eyes, fluffy fur that protects them from biting cold, and a luxuriant long tail, give them a cute cuddly look. When I completed an expedition to study snow leopards in the Gobi region of Mongolia, I did not think about them in the Bazaars of Ulaanbaatar – the capital city of Mongolia – when I bought a pair of Cashmere gloves as a wedding gift for my fiancée. Back then, I didn’t think that the cashmere goats would have anything to do with snow leopards. I imagined the herders who raise goats to produce the cashmere fibre would be living an idyllic life in the mountains. But the incessant rise of cashmere in Europe and North America has extended its tentacles into the remote mountains and valleys of Asia. Rising demand for cheap cashmere has reduced profit margins for herders. They are forced to increase the size of their goat herds, even replacing some of the other species of livestock with cashmere goats to keep their livelihood alive. Snow Leopards eat wild herbivores but the wild herbivores are being ousted by the rising herds of cashmere goats. The average cashmere buyer in Europe is only two steps removed from the snow leopard. To enable them to survive, the herder and his goats need to leave them some space but that is possible only with low impact traditional form of grazing, not the industrialized model of grazing. Next month when we celebrate our wedding anniversary, I will not be buying her cashmere.

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