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With possibly as few as 4,000 snow leopards surviving in the wild, a new report from TRAFFIC has found that hundreds of the endangered big cats are being killed illegally each year across their range in Asia’s high mountains.

Published ahead of today’s UN meeting on snow leopards and International Snow Leopard Day on Sunday, An Ounce of Prevention: Snow leopard crime revisited estimates that between 221-450 snow leopards have been poached annually since 2008 – a minimum of 4 per week. But this number could be substantially higher since many killings in remote areas go undetected.

Combatting poaching and illegal trade of snow leopards is a key objective of the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), which unites all 12 snow leopard range countries with intergovernmental and non-governmental organization partners. The GSLEP Secretariat is among the organizers of today’s UN meeting.

James Compton, Senior Programme Director with TRAFFIC said:

“TRAFFIC’s analysis confirms the worrying scale of illegal killing of snow leopards. This urgent wake-up call provides a blueprint for GSLEP action at national and transboundary levels to protect snow leopards from threats posed by poaching and trafficking.”

Using a combination of methods, including seizure records, market surveys and expert interviews to provide the first quantitative estimates of the scale of snow leopard poaching and trafficking since 2003, the report found that the majority of snow leopards are killed in retaliation for attacks on livestock (55%) or by non-targeted methods, such as snares (18%).

Only 21 percent of snow leopards were poached specifically for the illegal trade in their pelts and products. However, the report found that over half the retaliatory and non-targeted poaching incidents result in opportunistic attempts to sell, contributing to the estimated 108-219 snow leopards that are illegally traded each year.

Interestingly, the report also found a steep decline in the number of snow leopards observed in trade and in markets, particularly in China, which suggests that demand could be falling – perhaps due to increased enforcement.

 WWF-UK's Snow Leopard Programme lead Rebecca May  said:  

“This timely report outlines the severity and scale of the killing and trafficking of one of nature’s most charismatic and mystical species. With possibly as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild, it is almost inconceivable that so many of these animals have been deliberately killed since 2008, and that the poaching carries on today.”

“It is vital  that governments, communities and organisations across all 12 snow leopard range countries, take action to halt human-wildlife conflict, as well as poaching and trade in snow leopard parts.  Retaliatory killing can be reduced through initiatives that help to offset the costs of livestock losses to snow leopards and successful schemes such as these need to be expanded.”

Rishi Sharma, WWF Snow Leopard Programme lead and co-author of the report said

“Even if there is reduced demand for snow leopard skins, the killing will continue unless we all work together to drastically reduce human-wildlife conflict and ensure that mountain communities can co-exist with snow leopards. Compensation schemes and innovative predator-proof corrals are making a difference but we urgently need to expand these to benefit communities – and snow leopards – across Asia’s high mountains.”

The report calls on governments to mitigate human-wildlife conflict by preventing snow leopards from killing livestock, offsetting the costs of livestock losses, and expanding community-based conservation programmes. It also recommends strengthening both national and transboundary law enforcement, especially as less than a quarter of known cases of snow leopard poaching were investigated and just 14 percent were prosecuted.

The report also recommends that TRAFFIC maintains the snow leopard crime database that was developed as part of the current research. The database contains records of seizures and observations of snow leopard killing, capture and trade dating back to 1989.  

Kristin Nowell, lead author of the report commented:

“The snow leopard crime database is a critical resource for everyone involved in efforts to reduce poaching and illegal trade in the species and will help to target interventions at key points across snow leopard range. But we need to expand efforts to monitor activity on the Internet and social media as snow leopard traffickers may be moving online to try to evade law enforcement.”

According to the report, over 90 percent of the reported snow leopard poaching occurred in five range countries: China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. Nepal was also flagged for having relatively high poaching levels considering its relatively small population of snow leopards. China and Russia were most frequently identified as destinations for animals poached in other countries. Afghanistan has also been a major illegal market for snow leopard furs over the past decade.

Financial support for the research and publication of the report was provided by the WWF Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities Project, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Notes for editors:

(1)  A high-level panel event takes place today at the UN Headquarters in New York, organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), GSLEP Secretariat and Kyrgyzstan. The meeting aims to: commemorate International Snow Leopard Day; re-enforce GSLEP collaboration and synergies; highlight innovative programming, partnerships and progress on the ground; and strengthen political support and commitment for ongoing and new GSLEP initiatives.

(2)  Download An Ounce of Prevention: Snow leopard crime revisited www.traffic.org/storage/snow-leopard-report.pdf

(3)  Snow leopards live at high altitude in the following countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

For more information, please contact:

Jonathan Jones

phone: +44 (0)7824 416735

email: jjones@wwf.org.uk

About TRAFFIC

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.  www.panda.org/news for latest news and media resources.