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Vanishing snow leopards

Harald Franzen
October 21, 2016

Snow leopards are being killed in large numbers - but not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect. A new report says there may be as few as 4,000 of the big cats left.

Snow Leopard © Robert Harding Picture Library
Image: Robert Harding Picture Library

There are likely less than 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild, according to a new report by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

The survey estimates that an alarming 221 to 450 of the magnificent cats have been killed every year since 2008.

"Traffic's analysis confirms the worrying scale of illegal killing of snow leopards," said James Compton, senior program director of Traffic in a statement. More than 90 percent of the poaching occurs in China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan.

What sets the shy cats apart from other big cats is that they are not primarily threatened by illegal poaching or habitat loss - rather by so-called retaliatory killings.

Ranchers often hunt and kill snow leopards because they sometimes prey on livestock. Guilty or not, these "retaliations" account for 55 percent of all snow leopards killed.

Another 21 percent are killed for trade, and 18 percent are killed by other unintended manmade means such as traps or snares.

But even if the cats aren't initially killed for their skins, the report estimates that those killing them still try to sell the dead animals more than half of the time.

"Even if there is reduced demand for snow leopard skins, the killing will continue unless we all work together to drastically reduce human-wildlife conflict, and ensure that mountain communities can co-exist with snow leopards," said Rishi Sharma, WWF snow leopard program leader and co-author of the report.

"Compensation schemes and innovative predator-proof corrals are making a difference, but we urgently need to expand these to benefit communities - and snow leopards - across Asia's high mountains."


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