Snow leopards. They’re one of nature’s most beautiful yet rarest creatures. Found only in the mountainous regions of South and Central Asia, this stunning species has been a cause for concern for zoologists, conservationists, and animal lovers for decades. For many years snow leopards have been considered an ‘endangered’ species. But all that looks to have changed.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps what they call their ‘Red List of Threatened Species’, a register of the very most at risk creatures on Earth. And the snow leopard has just been stepped down a level. It is now only considered as ‘vulnerable’, instead of ‘endangered’.
It’s no cause for huge celebration, though. These vulnerable animals are still very much under threat of extinction. It’s just that their status, as the name suggests, isn’t quite as worrying as ‘endangered.’
“The previous assessment in 2008 (endangered C1) was based on less 2,500 mature individuals and an estimated decline of 20% over 16 years (two generations),” the IUCN wrote.
“However, in that assessment, effective population size was incorrectly used as a surrogate for ‘mature individuals’ and produces a lower figure (50% of the adult population of 4,080). Therefore, the species should have been listed as vulnerable in 2008.”
Snow leopards will always be in danger, though. They’re valued for their skin, which is used for expensive pelts and furs. Poachers also kill them in order to extract and sell their bones to unscrupulous alternative medicine suppliers in the Far East.
Another problem they face is that the numbers of the their natural prey (animals such as wild sheep and goats) are dwindling fast. This forces snow leopards to attack, kill and eat livestock. Acts for which they are normally punished for by death, as angry farmers retaliate.
Experts are not all in agreement, though. Conservation organization The Snow Leopard Trust, heavily opposes the IUCN’s statement and have said as much in a recent statement:
“We believe the best available science does not justify the status change, and that it could have serious consequences for the species,” the Trust said on their website.
“In the case of the snow leopard, less than 2% of the species’ range has ever been sampled for abundance using reliable techniques such as camera traps or genetic analysis. In addition, the limited solid data that is available is biased toward high-density areas.”
“The new assessment behind the status change of the snow leopard does not improve on this data and appears to use methodologies – such as asking people how many snow leopards they think to exist in an area – that are not recognized as scientifically valid for estimating populations.”
The Snow Leopard Trust has been dedicated to looking out for the interests of snow leopards since its creation in 1981 and are highly regarded and respected in their field. So while it’s seemingly good news that snow leopards are doing better, it’s hardly time to stop worrying quite yet.