Shahtoosh (from Persian شاهتوش 'king of wools'), also known as Shatoush, is a wool obtained from the fur of the chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii, also called Tibetan antelope). Also, shawls made from the wool of the chiru are called shahtoosh. Shahtoosh is the finest animal wool, followed by vicuña wool.
As undomesticated wild animals, the chirus cannot be shorn, so they are killed for this purpose. Due to the severe decline of the chiru population by 90% in the second half of the 20th century, they were internationally classified as a critically endangered species until 2016. Since 2016, they have been classified as a near threatened species due to species conservation programs and partial recovery of population size. The wool is mostly used to make luxurious scarves and shawls, although the production, sale, and acquisition of shahtoosh has been illegal under CITES since 1979. On the black market, shahtoosh shawls fetch prices ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.
The average fiber diameter of the down hair is 11.45 microns with a standard deviation of 1.78 microns and a coefficient of variation of 15.55 %, and a span from 6.25 to 16.25 microns. Because of the small fiber diameter, the down hair of the chirus is the finest of all animal hairs. The down hair is wavy and mosaic scaled with a scale spacing of 5.3 scales per 100 microns. The scale width tapers in the upward direction of the hair to the next scale ring. At the scale edge, the hair is thicker, making the fiber diameter uneven along the length of the hair. The hair of the chirus is beige to gray, and white on the belly. Only 12-14 % of the down hair is white and more expensive. The lighter the hair color, the lighter shades can be dyed.
The guard hairs are separated from the down hair by sorting. However, due to the fineness and low tensile strength of the fiber, sorting can only be done manually and incompletely, resulting in guard hairs in scarves. Due to tiny air bubbles in the hair, the guard hairs of shatoosh show a pattern like laid stone slabs under a light microscope. This allows shatoosh to be distinguished from cashmere wool products under a light microscope, where guard hairs of cashmere wool look like dark stripes with light-colored edges.
The animals, which live wild on the Tibetan Plateau, the Changtang region,Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai and are under species protection, are killed for the illegal production of textiles in order to obtain the particularly fine warming wool hair of the undercoat. The wool of three to five animals is needed for a scarf, as each chiru produces only about 125-150 grams of the raw wool. Therefore, the population of about one million in the 1950s dropped drastically to an estimated 45,000 (1998 estimate) or 75,000 (2000 estimate) and recovered to about 150,000 animals by 2009 due to species protection. The wool is shipped from the Tibetan Changtang area to Kashmir in India, where it is processed into scarves in the Srinagar area. In 2003, it was estimated that 14,293 people were directly or indirectly involved in the production of shahtoosh shawls. Efforts are underway in India to domesticate some chirus so that shorn shatoosh can be legally used.
Shahtoosh wool is spun and woven, either in rectangular plain weave or diamond-shaped plain weave (called chashme bulbul 'eye of the nightingale' or 'diamond weave'). Shahtoosh shawls can be pulled through a ring due to the small diameter of the fibers ('ring test'), although this also applies to thinly woven shawls made from other wools. By admixing pashmina, shahtoosh can be embroidered more extensively. Blended fabrics of shahtoosh and pashmina are designated differently according to the proportions: Shurah Dani = 100 % Shahtoosh, Bah Dani = 75 % Shahtoosh and 25 % Pashmina, Aeth Dani = 50 % Shahtoosh (as warp) and 50 % Pashmina (as weft). Shawls for women are often 2 m × 1 m in size and weigh circa 100 g, while shawls for men are often 3 m × 1.5 m (called doshala).
An investigation on a 1994 charity event in New York by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service led to the subpoenaing of celebrities who purchased shahtoosh scarves, as well as the first criminal cases for the sale of this material in the US. In April 2000, British authorities fined a London-based trading company for the illegal possession of 138 scarves. Between 2010 and 2018, a total of 295 scarves were confiscated in Switzerland, corresponding to an average of 33 scarves per year. Despite some successful arrests of illegal trafficking rings, a large number of "petty criminals" get away with it, as it is usually claimed to be pashmina or similar legal fabrics. A clear clarification that can be used in court is only obtained after a laboratory examination (DNA test, measurement under a light microscope or a scanning electron microscope).
Under Emperor Akbar, the imperial wardrobe began to utilize Tus or Shahtoos on a large scale. It was the costliest, warmest and most delicate shawl. It was soft enough to pass through a finger ring. Its natural colours were black, white and red. It is said that Akbar once gave orders for the white to be dyed into red, but the shawl did not take the colour of the dye. People began to use it simply in its natural colours.
- Kekexili: Mountain Patrol - a film based on the Wild Yak Brigade of the 1990s that sought to limit poaching for Shatoosh
- Dina Fine Maron (24 April 2019). "A rare antelope is being killed to make $20,000 scarves". nationalgeographic.com. Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
- "Kashmir rethinks shahtoosh ban". The Washington Times. 18 June 2004. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
- Gordon Rayner. "Buyers of £4,000 shahtoosh shawls are fuelling illegal wildlife trade, Prince Charles warns". The Daily Telegraph.
- Kenneth D. Langley: Shahtoosh Fibres, The James Hutton Institute. Accessed 24 January 2013.
- Ivana Markova: Textile Fiber Microscopy: A Practical Approach. John Wiley & Sons, 20 February 2019. ISBN 978-1-119-32008-1. p. 62.
- Wildlife Protection Society of India: Fashioned for Extinction – An Exposé of the Shahtoosh Trade. 1997.
- Saloni Gupta: Contesting Conservation. In: Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research, Springer, 2018, ISBN 3-319-72257-3. p. 39, 51, 69.
- IANS, India Today: Shahtoosh: Can the prized industry be revived again?, New Delhi/Srinagar, 10 April 2012.
- Kashmiri Shahtoosh Shawls, 2 April 2016.
- Susan Saulny: Shawls Sold at Charity Event: So Soft, So Rare and So Illegal, The New York Times, 3 January 2001.
- Helen Williams: Firm fined for illegal Shahtoosh shawls. The Independent, 13 April 2000.
- J. C. Lee, L. C. Tsai, C. Y. Yang, C. L. Liu, L. H. Huang, A. Linacre, H. M. Hsieh: DNA profiling of shahtoosh. In: Electrophoresis (2006), volume 27(17), S. 3359–3362. PMID 16888711.
- Private Lives of the Mughals of India (1526-1803 A.D.) by R. Nath