Illegal trade

International trade in endangered species of plants and animals is possible only to a limited extent or is even prohibited. Nevertheless, there is still a market for products derived from species which are strictly protected. The FSVO is committed to combatting illegal trade.

Shahtoosh: Shawls made from Tibetan antelope wool

Seized shahtoosh shawls

The wool of the Tibetan antelope is considered to be the most valuable, warmest and softest wool in the world. The wool is obtained from wild Tibetan antelopes. However, the animals cannot be domesticated for shearing so they are killed by poachers. Two to five protected Tibetan antelopes are killed in order to produce a single shawl. As a consequence, this protected species has seen its population decline by over 90 % since the beginning of the last century. Despite best efforts of the countries of origin, the international trade is flourishing due to high demand. The Tibetan antelope which supplies the wool for these shawls has been listed in CITES Appendix I since 28.06.1979 and therefore has the same protection status as, for example, tigers and rhinos. International trade is strictly prohibited.

Importation is punishable

A shawl made of shahtoosh wool can cost up to 20,000 Swiss francs. Findings of shawls are seized immediately. Under the Federal CITES Act, illegal importation is also punishable by a fine. In an individual case the fine can be up to several thousands of francs; in the case of organised trade it can be several tens of thousands.

Decrease of the seizures in 2017 despite still significant illegal trade

A total of 34 shahtoosh shawls were seized in 2017. There are two main reasons for this decrease:

  • The number of inspections has had to be cut due to staff shortages
  • Fewer shawls were confiscated on average per seizure (often just one shawl rather than several)
Shahtoosh shawls seized in Switzerland

The graph therefore shows the effects that increasing or reducing the number of inspections can have. 

Strengthened international cooperation

The shawls seized in Switzerland are the tip of the iceberg. For this reason, international cooperation has also been strengthened. In July 2016 the FSVO adopted measures for a coordinated approach in cooperation with Interpol as well as other affected countries. Switzerland also placed the issue on the agenda of last year’s Conference of the Parties to the CITES Convention. The drafting of internationally binding recommendations is in the planning stage.

In addition to intensive controls and international cooperation, the FSVO is also committed to educating consumers who, by their own admission, often do not know that they are wearing wool from an endangered animal species around their necks.

More information

Last modification 11.10.2018

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