A new expert report says hundreds of snow leopards are being killed every year
A mere 4,000 snow leopards might be left in the wild today. This is staggering news for an animal that ranges over the mountains of 12 range countries: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan. According to a new report by the wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic (traffic.org), over the past few years, up to 400 snow leopards have been killed annually across the range countries, with the largest number of killings in China (approximately 236). India isn’t far behind, with an estimated 45 snow leopards killed every year. Some of it is for the illegal trade in pelt and other body parts, although most of the killings arise from conflict with humans over snow leopard attacks on livestock. As a result, snow leopard numbers have fallen by 20% in the past decade.
Although in places like Kibber, in Spiti, and Hemis, in Ladakh, the use of leopard-proof corrals have decreased man-animal conflict, this is yet to take off in a big way. Additionally, pressures from grazing livestock on wild pastures have also reduced the number of wild ungulates like blue sheep and Himalayan ibex, the traditional prey of the snow leopard. A lack of international cooperation between the range countries also prevents effective conservation, says the report. In some places like the central Asian countries, clandestine trophy hunting by wealthy Russian outfitters has been highlighted as a problem. War-torn Afghanistan has become a major hub for the trade in snow leopard pelts. It’s become the main destination of snow leopards poached in India and Pakistan, from where many pelts are carried overseas by western military contractors. As far as illegal trade in snow leopard parts is concerned, some important trade routes have been observed in India. These are in Arunachal Pradesh, cross-border trade from Guwahati in Assam to Myanmar and Nepal; from the Bhabha and Pin valleys in Himachal Pradesh and across the Shipki La to China; from Demchok in Ladakh to China and from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Nepal.
Among the many recommendations put forward by the report, the main ones are the use of livestock corrals, reducing livestock pressure on pasture lands and the strengthening of local livelihoods so less people are dependent on livestock cultivation. The report encourages governments to support efforts to stop retaliatory killings, tighten anti-poaching legistlation, and, most importantly, increase trans-boundary law enforcement cooperation.
The elusive snow leopard is often likened to a spirit by cultures in the countries where it is found. In Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti for example, it’s called ‘Shan’, Ladakhi for ghost. If the killing of this majestic animal continues at this rate, it might soon become just that.