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Less than 4000 and Still Declining: Why Snow Leopards' Population Falls Despite Protection

Oct 24, 2016 05:30 AM EDT

Poaching is usually the reason why wildlife population, especially those that are of high market value, decreases exponentially. With their by-products demanded by consumers, or by being a potential pet, the animals are always in the light of danger. But this is not the case of snow leopards. Though partly correct, a recent study found out that what actually endangers snow leopards is the retaliation of nomad communities.

On a recent report from Traffic, USAID, and WWF, they found out that the trend in snow leopards' declining population accounts more on the killings done by livestock owners around areas in Asia. In defense of the herders' sheep and cattle, they end up hunting down snow leopards that can harm their flock.

Read here: An Ounce of Prevention: Snow Leopard Crime Revisited.

Snow leopards are known to thrive at around 1,000 to 4,500 meters above sea level, with furry bodies that work well to hide them on snowy mountains. They naturally feed on blue sheep, mountain ibex, and the like that are three times more than their body size. These characteristics have been the main threat to nomadic herders' sheep and cattle flock that are usually grazing around the snow leopards' territorial regions.

Another aggravating issue which emanated from the report is the use of e-commerce. To bypass laws, there were transactions made online wherein posting of orders and available snow leopard by-products were openly exposed to the online market. With medicinal claims, parts of snow leopard such as claws and teeth were advertised on the web, and it is noted to be increasing through the years.

Rishi Sharma, a co-author from the WWF, also shared her opinion on the overall implications of their findings in Christian Science Monitor. "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."

In an article from BBC, they cited the strategy done in Kyrgyzstan. Based on the initiative done by the government and conservationists, they have found out that working out the friction by encouraging coexistence between the nomadic farmers and the snow leopards and establishing a sanctuary has proven that they can resolve the issues between the two. Since the area utilized by the nomads is also the habitat range of snow leopards, securing that the area is protected as a sanctuary, the population of snow leopard's natural prey such as the ibex has helped the nomad flocks to be safe from leopard attacks.

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