Under threat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 July, 1999, 12:00am

It does not pay to have an exquisite ruff around your neck.

There used to be millions of Tibetan chiru antelope roaming the Himalayas.

Now there are just 50,000 to 70,000, with around 20,000 massacred a year to satisfy the vain desires of humans.

It might not be long until there are none.

The chiru is an endangered species. Although trade in their super-fine shahtoosh hair is illegal, it still goes on. Take note: it takes the pelts of three to four animals to make one delicate shawl, a far heavier price to pay than the price tag of up to $50,000 on such shawls. Many rich tai-tais in Hong Kong, though, seem to be blissfully ignorant of this and have loved to be garbed in shahtoosh.

It might not pay to do so in the future, since a Hong Kong court fined a woman $300,000 for selling these shawls at the Furama Hotel, and people risk a year in jail and a fine of $100,000 for buying one. The heavy penalty was heralded as a landmark by campaigners, showing that Hong Kong is getting tough in its battle against illegal trade in endangered species, a precedent for other countries to follow.

In tonight's Inside Story (World, 7pm) Chris Dobson highlights this illegal trade, plus the work of local animal rights campaigners in trying to raise awareness that it is wrong to wear shahtoosh.

The programme also looks at the plight of pets being illegally smuggled across the border, bought in Shenzhen at basement prices.

It shows that most are not just cheap, but desperately sick, and die after a few days in Hong Kong. Inside Story talks to vets who deal with them, and dissatisfied customers.

Modern Chinese culture is not exactly known for its compassion for animals. It is good that television, at least, is highlighting what creatures go through because of our ignorance and selfishness.

A very different type of endangered species fights back in the highly entertaining The Business (World, 10pm).

In Guns 'N' Posies, small florists that belong to Interflora, the British flower delivery service, put up a fierce rebellion against efforts to modernise the organisation through a new high-street uniformity.

The ideas put forward at the annual conference by its chairman and new chief executive might have made commercial sense. But what many of the members objected to, in particular the women, was being dictated to in a totally new and alien corporate language.

A new culture stressing words like 'conform' did not go down well among small, independent business people used to doing their own thing and coming together like a family in the Interflora network.

The women who led the revolt didn't like being treated condescendingly by the man of business, and surprised him by their ability to resist his magic marketing speak.

Women have not featured largely in this series. The lesson here is that when they do appear on the business battlefield, they should never be underestimated, especially when their hackles are raised by male arrogance.