Snow Leopard: 2023 is a crucial year for its protection

Numerous organizations are working to preserve this feline and the mountain ecosystems in which it lives, which are also under threat

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Snow Leopard: 2023 is a crucial year for its protection

2023 will be a crucial year for the survival of the highly endangered snow leopard. The snow leopard lives in the plateaus and high valleys of the major mountains of Central Asia, within the borders of Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Its geographical distribution extends from the Hindu Kush, in the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, up to China, where it is found on the mountainous reliefs of Xinjiang, on the Pamir, in the Altyn-Tagh and in the mountainous regions of Gansu and Western Sichuan.

The snow leopard also inhabits Pakistan and the southern Himalayas: Gilgit, Hunza, Kashmir, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan. It also lives in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, in Zungaria, in the Altai mountains, around Lake Baikal and in southern Siberia up to the Saiani mountains, on the border with Mongolia.

The snow leopard lives in the highlands between 3350 and 6700 m of altitude. The scholars of the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy have tried, despite the difficulties, to make an estimate of the population of this animal, evaluating it on 4080-6590 specimens.

However, fewer than 2,500 specimens of breeding age are feared. Numerous organizations are working to preserve this feline and the mountain ecosystems in which it lives, which are also under threat. These include the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, the Snow Leopard Network, the Cat Specialist Group and Panthera Corporation.

These groups, numerous national governments of the countries where this species lives, non-profit organizations and private agencies recently gathered in Beijing, at the X International Snow Leopard Conference. Their goal is to promote programs with the aim of collecting as much information as possible and awareness projects among the inhabitants of the places where snow leopards live, to better understand what their needs are.

Since the livelihood of farmers depends on the livestock raised, there is a tendency to increase the size of the flocks and therefore the consumption of the grasslands, reducing the number of wild sheep and goats, on which the snow leopard feeds.

Furthermore, humans kill these wild animals for meat and trophies, causing the number of wild prey to decline even faster. Miners use dangerous chemicals and explosives to extract minerals from the mountains where the leopard lives.

These open pit quarries force the snow leopard and their prey to find new places to settle. In addition to their prey, leopards may occasionally kill domestic animals as well. Herdsmen depend on their flocks as a source of income and the loss of even a single animal can have serious economic consequences for the entire family, so they often use traps, poisons and guns to kill leopards.

The snow leopard is killed for its splendid fur that is highly sought after in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia, for the bones and other body parts required for use in traditional Asian medicine, and is captured for private collections.

Many poachers are local people who live in the same areas as snow leopards. These regions have a high rate of poverty and poaching provides an extra income for the purchase of basic necessities such as food and shelter.