With possibly as few as 4,000 snow leopards surviving in the wild, a shock report from TRAFFIC has found that hundreds of the endangered big cats are being killed by poachers each year across their range in Asia's high mountains.
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|Snow Leopard mother and cub. © David Lawson / WWF-UK || |
According to the report there could be as few as 4,000 of the cats left in the wild as they are being illegally shot and trapped in alarming numbers.
Snow leopards have one of the most luxuriant and desirable of all fur pelts, which are sold for a small fortune on the black market.
The animals weigh a little more than a Labrador retriever but are fast, powerful and intelligent, a combination that gives them the advantage over prey three times their size.
Livestock have become an easy target for the animals across a range that stretches over 12 Asiatic nations where human populations are rising and once remote mountain habitats are being turned to grazing pastures.
The new report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, showed that killing snow leopards for their silvery dappled coats could fetch a hunter a year's wages by selling one leopard pelt, though hunting now accounts for fewer deaths than from human conflict.
According to the TRAFFIC report, the majority of snow leopards have been killed in retaliation for attacks on livestock (55 per cent) or by non-targeted methods, such as snares (18 per cent), with only 21 per cent of snow leopards poached specifically for the illegal trade in their pelts and products.
The highly camouflaged snow leopard is found across 12 countries including China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Russia.
The animals have thick hairy coats and furry feet, which enable them to survive in the harsh cold.
According to the study, the animals, which normally live at altitudes between 1,000 and 5,400 metres above sea level had been poached at the rate of 221 to 450 every year since 2008.
"We think that what most observations, seizure records and expert opinion shows is that the majority is still happening because of retaliatory killing," said James Compton from Traffic, BBC reported.