One of the most emblematic felines of the mountains of Central Asia. The snows leopard is in serious danger of extinction due to multiple impacts on its natural range. Although, traditionally, the indigenous Asian peoples with whom the snow leopard lived considered it a sacred animal and protector of the mountains, nowadays there are more and more conservation projects that are needed to guarantee the survival of the species.
If you want to discover why the snow leopard is in danger of extinction, in this complete AnimalWised article you will find all the answers and learn more about what is commonly known as the “ghost of the mountains or of the snow”.
Snow leopard characteristics and where it lives
The snow leopard or Irbis ( Panthera uncia ) has many characteristics in common with the rest of the cats in the taxonomic genus Panthera, although it is distinguished from them by being the only big cat that is not capable of roaring.
Among the main physiological characteristics of the snow leopard. Those related to the complete adaptation of the animal to snow, cold, and altitude stand out. Thus, the wide and hairy soles of their feet stand out. Which helps them to move agilely in the snow, using them as natural snowshoes. In addition, their strong and muscular legs allow them to make huge jumps of up to 14 meters, making use of their long and majestic tails to maintain their balance between the steep rocks of the mountains in which they live.
These mountain ecosystems, the snow leopard finds its natural prey, including large wild animals such as blue sheep, ibex, mouflon, and deer, as well as yaks and domestic livestock such as cattle, goats, and sheep; in addition to other smaller animals such as hares, marmots, and birds.
How many snow leopards are there in the world?
According to the most recent studies and estimates, there are currently only 7,500 individual snow leopards in the wild. This drastic fact has alerted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Which has developed a complex project to protect this species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. In order to fight against the extinction of this emblematic Asian feline.
Half of these snow leopard individuals are found between Tibet and China. While the rest are distributed among the mountains of Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
Based on the results of population monitoring studies of snow leopards, various environmental organizations have pointed out how the snow leopard population has already had a 20% decline in the last 20 years.
Why is the snow leopard in danger of extinction? – Causes
According to the WWF organization ( World Wildlife Fund ), among the main causes that threaten the survival of snow leopards in their natural habitats are:
The effects of climate change
The reduction of the natural habitat of snow leopards is due directly to the consequences that climate change causes in the alteration of temperatures. That is why the snow and ice characteristics of the mountains where these cats move are melting. Preventing them from reaching their prey and feeding easily on many occasions. With this, they are forced to survive in conditions of constant change in temperature, together with more limited availability of prey.
population control of snow leopards is always monitored by ecologists. And organizations for the conservation of the species, which have reported amounts how, in the last decade, the average number of snow leopards that are hunted furtively each year to 450 specimens. This data is really alarming. Considering the already low population of this feline in the wild. Thus leading to a drastic acceleration in the rate of loss of these predators.
Tourism and infrastructure projects in areas where they live
Intensifying human-wildlife conflicts are directly interfering with snow leopards moving. Even closer to extinction in coming years, according to studies carried out by the World Wide Fund for Nature. Due to the alteration that people cause in the natural environment. Leopards are displaced, also altering their hunting regimes and prey availability.
What can we do to save the snow leopard?
Now that we know the causes of why the snow leopard is in danger of extinction. What can we do to avoid it? The joint participation of both communities and local governments. As well as tourists is of vital importance to ensure that the security. And the number of individuals of snow leopards increase in the coming years.
In addition, there are now many environmental organizations proposing comprehensive snow leopard conservation initiatives. And plans, such as Save Our Species, Central Asian Mammal Initiative, Snow Leopard Trust, World Wildlife Fund, and Wildlife Without Borders. The intervention of all these entities creates links with local governments and communities. Together with the creation of an International Snow Leopard Summit (in which Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, and India participate), allows increasing the indispensable commitments to safeguard the existence of this large mammal, thus developing specific plans to help these felines to recover their presence in their natural areas of distribution.
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