Often silent and stealthy–living in mountainous terrain–Snow Leopards are referred to as ghosts by locals.
The big cat lives mostly above 3,000 metres (10,000 ft) in the countries of Mongolia, Siberia, Western China, India, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. In the 30 years before 2017, snow leopards were considered endangered by the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). But, about five years ago, to the dismay of some conservationists, the snow leopard was downgraded from endangered–to vulnerable to extinction.
In Monga Bay News, Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Network, and winner of the UK’s Whitley Gold Award for conservation, claimed that only 2% of the animal’s territory has been surveyed, making snow leopard number forecasts unconvincing. The Himalayas, Pamir, Tian Shan, Kunlun, Altai, and nearby Mountains are, by definition, difficult to get to. Other scientists have voiced concerns that the ICUN downgrade might not serve the best interests of snow leopards.
The animals are vulnerable to extinction by humans, and to be considered endangered, animals need to number about 2,500 in total. It is thought that less than 10,000 snow leopards—a by no means robust number—are living in the wild. As the apex predator in the mountains, it has no other enemies other than man. New technologies like radio collars and camera traps are used to spot snow leopards and are used by scientists to study snow leopards.
Dangers to snow leopards include trafficking in their beautiful pelts, as well as their bones and organs for traditional medicine purposes, (proven by scientists to be of no benefit). Climate change could result in up to 30 percent of the snow leopard’s habitat in the Himalayas alone, being lost to rising temperatures, according to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).
As the numbers of human settlements grow in snow leopard territories, lands are being cleared for mining, as well as grazing by yaks, sheep, goats, horses, camels, and reindeer. Wild ibex and blue sheep are the preferred diet of the snow leopard. However, with fewer wild animals to eat, and less territory to roam in, snow leopards in search of a meal, can decimate domesticated herds of animals. The leopards are then hunted down and killed.
The WWF, in the Ladakh region of India, is attempting to help locals, through education programs, and by supplying predator-proof pens in the cities of Leh and Kargil.
Also, The Snow Leopard Conservancy is involved in helping farmers in Pakistan, Siberia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and Nepal. And jobs for rangers who protect snow leopards have been available through the award-winning Snow Leopard Trust. The Trust’s Dr. Charudutt Mishra has not only worked towards discouraging retaliatory killings, but has also successfully prevented mining in the Tost Snow Leopard Reserve in Mongolia.
Another WWF effort involves supporting a Mongolian yak dairy brand called ‘Guyemkhen’ or Baby Snow Leopard. Fewer yaks are needed to milk in the dairy industry, as opposed to meat production. Thus program ensures fewer snow leopards are endangered by the pasturing of yaks.
Snow leopards do not attack people; and when seen by farmers, are known to run away from them.
Associated Newspapers Limited. (2021). How snow leopard saviour helped protect endangered species by tackling ‘retaliation killings’ in Himalayas: Dr Charudutt Mishra is a world expert on snow leopards and has pioneered new programmes to help local communities live alongside them. https://focusingonwildlife.com/news/how-snow-leopard-saviour-helped-protect-endangered-species-by-tackling-retaliation-killings-in-himalayas/
Green Matters. (2022, April 1). Are Snow Leopards Endangered? Poaching Has Led to The Species’ Decline. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/why-are-snow-leopards-endangered
World Wildlife Fund. (2022). Snow Leopard. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/snow-leopard
Mongabay News. (2017, September 26). Snow leopards no longer ‘endangered,’ but still in decline and in need of urgent conservation measures. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/09/snow-leopards-no-longer-endangered-but-still-in-decline-and-in-need-of-urgent-conservation-measures/
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (2017). Snow Leopard. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22732/50664030
Snow Leopard Trust. (2022). Frequently Asked Questions. https://snowleopard.org/about/frequently-asked-questions/
World Wildlife Fund India. (2022). Corral Pens & Snow Leopards in India. https://www.wwfindia.org/news_facts/feature_stories/corral_pens_snow_leopards_in_india/
Snow Leopard Conservancy. (2008). Why Are Snow Leopards Endangered? What Does “Endangered” Mean? https://snowleopardconservancy.org/kids/text/endangered.htm
World Wildlife Fund. (2021, March 17). Exciting new survey shows stable snow leopard population in Mongolia: First-ever population survey assessment brings good news for the vulnerable species. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/exciting-new-survey-shows-stable-snow-leopard-population-in-mongolia
Snow Leopard Trust. (2019, September 6). Tost Snow Leopard Reserve Gets Bigger and Better. https://snowleopard.org/tost-snow-leopard-reserve-gets-bigger-and-better/
Treehugger. (2021, September 18). Why the Snow Leopard Population Is Decreasing:
The elusive big cat faces threats from habitat loss and poaching. https://www.treehugger.com/are-snow-leopards-endangered-5072563
World Wildlife Fund Mongolia. (2021, February 2). Small-scale dairy manufacturing provides local livelihood opportunities in western Mongolia. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/small-scale-dairy-manufacturing-provides-local-livelihood-opportunities-in-western-mongolia