A new report from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that there are just 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild.
What’s worse is that humans have aided this population downturn by killing between 221 and 450 of these creatures each year since 2008.
Indeed, at least four snow leopards a week die at the hands of poachers while even more die at the hands of local farmers who kill these creatures in retaliation for killing their livestock.
“We think that what most observations, seizure records and expert opinion shows is that the majority is still happening because of retaliatory killing,” Traffic’s James Compton told the BBC.
“One of the major interventions to stop that is better protection for livestock, in some of these very remote areas where you have nomad communities and herds of livestock, because that’s where the friction takes place.”
Unfortunately, the central and east Asian terrain (including China, Pakistan, and Russia) that the snow leopard calls home is filled with these nomadic farming communities that have now become the animal’s chief enemy.
While these giant cats survive in the toughest of conditions on the Himalayan and Tibetan plateaus, living at altitudes between 10,000 and 17,000 feet above sea level, they nevertheless aren’t safe from human encroachment.
In such harsh conditions, the snow leopard’s main diet consists largely of mountain ibex and blue sheep. This is what brings snow leopards into conflict with the farmers who tend to these animals — and what poses the greatest threat to snow leopards today.
“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,” Rishi Sharma from the World Wide Fund for Nature, a co-sponsor of the report, told the BBC.
“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.”