A Changpa nomad weaves pashmina wool with a loom in a nomadic camp in Leh. AFP
The world is heading for a shortage of the highly prized and super-soft cashmere wool as pashmina goats that live on the "roof of the world" become caught up in the fractious border dispute between neighbours India and China.
Wool from pashmina goats, reared by nomads in the inhospitable high-altitude cold desert region of Ladakh, is the most expensive and coveted cashmere in the world.
But the shaggy creatures that provide the yarn are being pushed out of their grazing lands in the tussle between the world's two most-populous nations, causing the death of tens of thousands of kids this season, locals and officials said.
"In about three years when the newborn goats would have started yielding pashmina we'll see a significant drop in production," Sonam Tsering of the All Changtang Pashmina Growers Cooperative Marketing Society told.
This year, even the main winter grazing areas near KakJung, Tum Tselay, Chumar, Damchok and Korzok are out of bounds amid the heightened tensions, he added.
"It's devastating. The PLA (China's People's Liberation Army) used to encroach into our side by the metres, but this time they have come inside several kilometres,"
"It was breeding season for the goats. Around 85 per cent of their newborns died this year because large herds were pushed out into the cold from the grazing lands in February," said Jurmet, a former elected official who has only one name.
The huge number of deaths in the tens of thousands according to a local Indian official could devastate the sector in the coming years.
The goats yield some 50 tonnes of the finest and most expensive feather-light cashmere wool each year, supporting the vital handicrafts industry in Kashmir that employs thousands of people.
Most of the wool is woven into yarn and exquisite shawls sold the world over including luxury store Harrods in London and can cost up to $800 for one scarf.
More than 1,000 families of nomadic Changpa herders roam the vast Changtang plateau at over 5,000 metres, grazing some 300,000 Pashmina goats, black yaks and horses through the summer months.
They move to the slightly lower altitude grazing lands straddling Tibet and along the mighty Indus river during harsh winter months of December to February when temperatures drop up to minus 50º Celsius.
Some have even abandoned their generations-long way of life to migrate to towns in Ladakh in search of other sources of income.
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