SRINAGAR, India // Heavy snow has killed nearly 25,000 pashmina goats in the Indian Himalayas, threatening supplies of silky cashmere wool used to make high-end scarves, an official said today.
Thousands of nomads rear the goats in the terrain of India's north-western region of Ladakh, a high-altitude desert renowned for its dramatic landscape of towering mountains and arid plains.
Some 50 tonnes of raw pashmina wool, known to be some of the best in the world, is produced there each year and sent to neighbouring Kashmir where it is processed and woven into scarves and shawls which sell for up to Dh3,000 apiece.
This year, an estimated 25,000 goats have starved to death in the Changthan region because their fodder is buried under unusually heavy snow, said Rigzin Spalbar, who heads the Ladakh Hill Development Council, the autonomous governing body of the region.
"All the land access routes are blocked with snow and a week earlier we requested the government to airdrop fodder and supplements for the surviving goats," Mr Spalbar said.
"It took me seven days on foot to reach a fringe of the area and I saw dead pashmina goats lying all around," Mr Spalbar said, adding that the only contact with the nomads is through satellite phones.
Another 175,000 goats are at risk of perishing as their fodder is buried under about 90 centimetres of snow after one of the biggest snowfalls in nearly 50 years, he said.
At 5,200 metres, Changthan receives almost no rain during summer and usually about five centimetres of snow in an average winter. Temperatures can drop to minus-50°C.
"We are totally helpless and are trying to organise fodder in compact form from the army in Leh," he said, referring to the biggest town in Ladakh.
Apart from the pashmina goats, 100,000 sheep, cows and wild yaks are also at risk of perishing
In recent years, because of a lack of supplies from Ladakh, weavers in Kashmir have begun importing raw pashmina from China and Mongolia to meet ever-increasing demand for their products.