Animal conservationists all over the world celebrated last week over the news that the snow leopard would no longer be called 'endangered'. The elusive big cats, who live in parts of central Siberia, the Altai Mountains and Central Asia, have been classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Nature Conservation since 1972, and there have even been fears that it may one day become extinct since 1986.
Source: Gerard Lacz/Robert Harding
However, in September 2017, its status was changed to 'vulnerable'. This decision came after a 3 year long study by 5 international experts. Dr Tom McCarthy, who was part of the group of scientists, explains:
To be considered 'endangered', there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline. Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news.
He does add, however:
But it does not mean that snow leopards are 'safe' or that now is a time to celebrate. The species still faces 'a high risk of extinction in the wild', and is likely still declining - just not at the rate previously thought.
Other scientists are against this change in status, believing that it could have catastrophic consequences for the beautiful animals. The Snow Leopard Trust have questioned the methods that led to the decision. They think that the study only took a small sample of the total population which, in the eyes of the organisations volunteers, does not reflect reality, which is far more complex and varies from region to region.
At the moment, snow leopards face many threats, despite conservation efforts to protect them. They suffer the effects of climate change, which change the environment they live in as well as causing the number of prey they hunt to decline, and the progressive erosion of their territory by humans who use it for livestock.Humans are another threat, hunting them for their fur and bones, which are used in 'traditional' medicine to replace tiger bones.Poaching still has devastating effects, particularly as leopard fur can bring in up to $10000 (£7500) on the black market.You can help support snow leopard conservation efforts by donating to charities such as WWF, where you can even adopt one!
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