Globalization of the cashmere market and the decline of large mammals in central Asia

Conserv Biol. 2013 Aug;27(4):679-89. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12100.


As drivers of terrestrial ecosystems, humans have replaced large carnivores in most areas, and human influence not only exerts striking ecological pressures on biodiversity at local scales but also has indirect effects in distant corners of the world. We suggest that the multibillion dollar cashmere industry creates economic motivations that link western fashion preferences for cashmere to land use in Central Asia. This penchant for stylish clothing, in turn, encourages herders to increase livestock production which affects persistence of over 6 endangered large mammals in these remote, arid ecosystems. We hypothesized that global trade in cashmere has strong negative effects on native large mammals of deserts and grassland where cashmere-producing goats are raised. We used time series data, ecological snapshots of the biomass of native and domestic ungulates, and ecologically and behaviorally based fieldwork to test our hypothesis. In Mongolia increases in domestic goat production were associated with a 3-fold increase in local profits for herders coexisting with endangered saiga (Saiga tatarica).That increasing domestic grazing pressure carries fitness consequences was inferred on the basis of an approximately 4-fold difference in juvenile recruitment among blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur)in trans-Himalayan India. Across 7 study areas in Mongolia, India, and China's Tibetan Plateau, native ungulate biomass is now <5% that of domestic species. Such trends suggest ecosystem degradation and decreased capacity for the persistence of native species, including at least 8 Asian endemic species: saiga, chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni), Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus), snow leopard(Panthera uncia), khulan(Equus hemionus), kiang (E. kiang), takhi (E. przewalski), and wild yak (Bos mutus). Our results suggest striking yet indirect and unintended actions that link trophic-level effects to markets induced by the trade for cashmere.

Keywords: India; Mongolia; comercio; fashion; herders; moda; pastores; saiga; trade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia, Central
  • Biomass
  • Commerce / economics*
  • Commerce / trends
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Endangered Species / statistics & numerical data
  • Goats*
  • Internationality*
  • Livestock / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity
  • Wool / economics*