Top Indian fashion designers and models have joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) global campaign against the illegal shahtoosh trade - a finely woven shawl made from the pelts of the highly endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru.

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), in collaboration with the Fashion Design Council of India, launched IFAW's Say No to Shahtoosh campaign this week in Delhi at the India Fashion Week. The campaign will also continue to run at fashion weeks in the world fashion capitals of Milan, Paris, London and New York.

Shahtoosh - once a highly prized accessory for the world's elite - is no longer fashionable, the queen of Indian designers, Ms Ritu Kumar declared at Indian Fashion Week.

"Shahtoosh has always been a part of Indian life, but there is a time and a place for everything. We cannot promote fashion at the cost of a species," she emphasized. "Today we do not need a shahtoosh to look beautiful or feel warm. There are many better fabrics for that."

The IFAW-WTI Say No to Shahtoosh campaign has been supported by the FDCI and individually by well-known Indian designers such as Sumeet Nair, Rohit Bal, Reena Dhaka, JJ Valaya, Rohit Gandhi, Puja Nayyar, Geetanjali Kashyap; and models such as Ruchi Nath, Rahul Dev and Aarti Surendranath among others.

Though the trade in Tibetan antelope is illegal under international law, more than 20,000 of these rare animals are killed annually to make contraband shahtoosh shawls. Scientists anticipate that the Tibetan antelope will soon become extinct if the illegal killing does not stop.

"We must end the demand for shahtoosh shawls if we are to protect the Tibetan antelope from extinction," said Grace De Gabriel, IFAW country director for China. "IFAW continues to support local Chinese anti-poaching patrols in the animals' habitat, but we must also stop the demand for these deadly shawls. IFAW hopes the Say No to Shahtoosh campaign will do just that."

The Tibetan antelope is locally referred to as the chiru. It lives above the tree line in Tibet, at an altitude of over 14,000 ft. Its natural environment is one of harsh, bitter winds, 40 F temperatures in the winter, with occasional snowstorms even during the short summers. Chiru cannot exist at lower altitudes, and for this reason cannot be housed in zoos.