The snow leopard has now been classified as a “vulnerable” species after having been extinct for several years. However, experts warn that the new classification does not mean that the species is safe.
“The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in nature’ and is still likely to decline, but not at the rate previously thought”, said Tom McCarthy, head of the snow leopard program at the Panthera group, dedicated to conservation wild cats, quoted by the Associated Press (AP).
The snow leopard is an elusive feline with reserved habits, and the only one that lives exclusively at altitude in the mountains of Central Asia. This species was classified as being in danger of extinction since 1972. Contrary to popular belief and despite changing status, the species continues to face challenges, including poaching and the loss of wild prey due to the degradation of pasture by domestic cattle.
The reclassification was announced this week by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and comes after a three-year assessment period, during which experts determined that the Himalayan felines no longer met two of the criteria that define endangered species, a sharp decline between 50% and 70%, as well as fewer than 2,500 copies.
Experts now estimate, based on improved quantitative methods, the existence of about 4,000 snow leopards, but stress that this estimate is based on an assessment that includes a detailed survey of only 2% of the mountain area of the leopards over 12 countries in Asia.
Some positive conservation developments have included an increase in the number of protected areas within this range, as well as an intensification of efforts by local communities to protect poachers’ animals.
The communities have also been working to prevent cases of local shepherds who build predator-proof corrals as a form of retaliation for the loss of livestock, according to Rodney Jackson, who heads the conservation group Leopard of the Snows.