Photos Courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society
In the last twenty years, snow leopard populations have fallen by 20%, enough to merit a spot on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) endangered species list. But, thanks to efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the government of Afghanistan, it looks like the big cats are making a come back. Camera traps located throughout Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor and a study by WCS conservationists show that snow leopards, notoriously hard to capture on film, are thriving.
Snow leopards, which make their home in the mountainous regions of Asia, face a variety of man-made threats. The mountain goats and sheep that make up their diet are overhunted; the cats themselves are poached for their valuable bones (used in traditional Chinese medicine), and because they pose a threat to domesticated live stock.
But the beautiful big cats, which stalk their prey on steep mountainsides and cliffs and can jump 20 feet, aren't giving up without a fight, and they've got help. Last year, Afghanistan added the snow leopard to its list of endangered species. Since 2006, the WCS has sponsored a number of initiatives to help the cats, including conservation education in area schools, population monitoring, and building predator-proof livestock corrals.
The success in the Wakhan corridor, in the far north-east of Afghanistan, is part of a larger trend of surging snow leopard populations. The WCS study estimates that there are now between 4,500 and 7,500 of the rare cats in Central Asia.
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More on snow leopards:
Mongolia Rescinds Snow Leopard Hunting Proposal
First-Ever Baby Snow Leopard Filmed in Wild
Rare and Majestic Mongolian Snow Leopards in Stunning Photos (Slideshow)