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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 04:44 GMT 05:44 UK
Afghans flout fur ban
By Jannat Jalil
BBC correspondent in Kabul

There is a growing and lucrative trade in the furs of wild animals in Afghanistan, despite an international ban.

And the people who are buying the furs are foreigners who are in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country.

A number of shops have sprung up in the capital, Kabul, selling the skins of wild animals, such as wolves and lynxes.

There are concerns that this trade may eventually lead to the extinction of Afghanistan's snow leopards, which are already an endangered species.

'Sold out'

One street in central Kabul has 10 or so shops which sell nothing but furs. They stock a huge range of animal skins.

I went inside one to find out exactly what they were selling and to whom.

There has been a 60% increase in our business - most of our customers are Isaf people
Kabul fur seller
The shopkeeper told me a fox fur coat costs $150.

When I asked him if he had any coats made of snow leopard skin, he said no. But the reason was far from reassuring - he had sold out.

"They have become so expensive for us - $500. Too expensive for Afghans but foreigners can buy them," he said.

I went into another shop, where there were snow leopard skins.

The owner assured me they were all 10-15 years old but he also revealed that snow leopards and other wild animals have good reason to regret the fall of the Taleban.

"There has been a 60% increase in our business because under the Taleban there wouldn't be any customers.

It's the market created by the foreigners - particularly those who are working with the UN or other NGOs
Environment Minister Yousef Nouristani
"The shops were closed - people would not buy. But now it's much better. Most of our customers are Isaf people."

Isaf are the international troops who are helping to keep the peace in Kabul.

New law

But why are these shops being allowed to openly sell the skins of endangered species of animal?

The Afghan Government says it is trying to put a law together to outlaw such activity.

Leopard cage  Throsten Harder
Scientific name: Uncia uncia
Can live 20 years or more
Listed as Endangered by the IUCN

"We hope that we'll be able to finalise this law within two months," Environment Minister Yousef Nouristani told the BBC.

With so many pressing problems to be tackled in rebuilding Afghanistan, he says the government is trying to stop the trade in wild animal fur, but needs the help of those who are coming into the country.

"We have asked most of the foreigners not to buy these things and if there is not a market from the foreigners the Afghan people probably don't need it," he says.

"It's the market created by the foreigners - particularly those who are working with the UN or other NGOs."

Tourist role

Back at the fur shops, I didn't see any customers go in, Western or Afghan, but I asked a few people out on the street whether they would consider buying a fur here in Kabul.

They're facing poverty and starvation in the Wakhan
Ali Azimi
One foreigner said he got his own furs hunting in Sweden.

"I don't buy it from here. Besides I don't know what kind it is and the quality. Many of the animals I have seen here are animals that are endangered like the spotted ones. I would never buy one of those."

Another drew a distinction between endangered species and animals like rabbits.

"If it's rabbit fur, and the family has sold the rabbit and the meat and the fur, and they can make an extra $10 out of it - then they're not wasting the animal.

"They're not just killing it for its fur. Then it doesn't seem quite so obscene."

A third foreigner said: "It seems a bit of a shame just to kill the animals just for the sake of selling them to some tourists here on a street here in Kabul."

'Desperate' situation

But animals like the snow leopard are not just being killed for their skins.

Snow leopards are most commonly found in north-eastern Afghanistan in an area known as the Wakhan.

I spoke to Ali Azimi, the author of a report on Afghanistan's environmental problems, who has just returned from a 10-day trip to the area.

"I was struck by the abject poverty of the people," he said. "Most can barely afford to have one meal a day.

"And the meal usually consists of a type of grass that grows in the Wakhan six months of the year. Six months it is snowbound.

"What they eat is what has been collected over the summer months - and it is a desperate situation for them. So they're facing poverty and starvation in the Wakhan."

This poverty and starvation is forcing people to hunt animals that would normally be the prey of the snow leopards - and the thousands of dollars that some people are prepared to pay for their skins is encouraging poachers to hunt these rare and beautiful creatures.

It's estimated there are now fewer than 100 snow leopards left in Afghanistan.

Unless urgent measures are taken soon they could disappear from Afghanistan altogether.

New calls for fur trade ban
08 May 03  |  Europe
Snow leopards seized from circus
28 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature
War 'has ruined Afghan environment'
29 Jan 03  |  Science/Nature

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