Snow Leopards Being Poached Into Extinction

Snow leopards, whose numbers are estimated to be as few as 4,000, could be extinct within the next four years.

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According to a study by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, snow leopards are being killed and illegally sold at an alarming rate.

Over 90% of annual Snow Leopard poaching is estimated to occur in five countries: China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan.

As many as 450 of these big cats are poached each year. But this data is based on sources (news articles, conservation literature, databases, and experts in the communities) that have a detection rate of only 38%. This low detection rate means the actual number of poached cats could be as high as 1,184 per year.

At that rate, snow leopards, whose numbers are estimated to be as few as 4,000, would be extinct within the next four years.

According to TRAFFIC’s report, 55% of the poached cats were killed in the defense of livestock, with the remaining 45% of poaching being comprised of active poaching efforts and non-targeted methods such as snares.

The report also shows there was a 60% chance that those who killed a snow leopard in defense or on accident would attempt to sell the carcass.

Snow leopards are prized for their thick, light-colored fur with dark spots, and their skins have a going rate of up to $10,000.

With the majority of poaching occurring after defensive killings, the report suggests:

Preventing livestock losses, offsetting the costs of losses, and improving community support for Snow Leopard conservation are the most important approaches to tackling the problem of Snow Leopard trafficking.

The report also has specific recommendations to governments, communities, and conservation organizations to help stem illegal poaching, including:

  • Addressing legislative shortcomings
  • Community-based conservation management
  • Enhancing the snow leopard poaching database
  • Market monitoring
  • Securing more international donations to help implement conservation efforts

Snow leopards matter. They are top predators, so when snow leopards thrive, so do their habitats. And keeping these habitats healthy is critical for the surrounding communities that rely on them for food, water, and other resources.

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