Some good news regarding the status of wild snow leopard populations has recently come to light with the IUCN reclassifying the status of this magnificent cat from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable”. The Red List that is managed by IUCN - the International Union for Conservation of Nature - is the accepted global standard for assessing the endangered status of species and their extinction risk. This change comes after a three year assessment by snow leopard experts from the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Panthera, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
For a species to be listed as ‘Endangered” there must be fewer than 2500 mature individuals in the population and a decline of 20% in the global population for two generations. The findings from the recent assessment conservatively estimate that the snow leopard population is a minimum of 4000 cats and as many as 7000 which would place snow leopards in the “Vulnerable” category. This is good news for the snow leopards.
Does this mean the snow leopard is now safe and no longer in danger? Absolutely not, the species still has a high risk of extinction. In fact the population is probably still declining but not a the rate first thought. The threats to this magnificent cat have not changed. Continuing threats include habitat encroachment, illegal hunting, and retaliatory killing for livestock predation. With a range covering 12 countries and millions of square miles, assessing the population is challenging to say the least, which is why the assessment team took a conservative approach.
What it does mean is that conservation efforts are paying off. Efforts being made through public education, local initiatives such as building predator proof corrals, livestock loss mitigation, and community ranger monitoring are paying off in a positive way.
It seems some in the conservation community disagree with the assessment, believing that this change in status may affect cooperative international snow leopard programs and will result in funding cuts for global snow leopard conservation. I tend to disagree; I think it’s nice to hear some positive news for a change. We are constantly bombarded with negative news about the certain extinction of various species. It becomes overwhelming, depressing, and makes you think why bother to contribute if they are doomed anyway?
I think it may have the opposite effect, it could very well encourage more support, not less, due of the likelihood of success that we may very well save snow leopards.
Personally, I have always had a passion for snow leopards since seeing them for the very first time in 1972. There is no cat more beautiful than the snow leopard. Here at Tanganyika Wildlife Park we have had snow leopards in our collection since 1988. We currently have 13 snow leopards at TWP and have produced 72 kittens since 1993. We participate in a managed breeding program and have sent snow leopards all over the country. We are committed to continue our work with this magnificent cat.
If you would like to contribute to snow leopard conservation you may send your contributions to us at the Tanganyika Wildlife Foundation (a 501c3) for distribution, or send your contribution directly to the Snow Leopard Conservancy by going to www.snowleopardconservancy.org.