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Hun­dreds of snow leop­ards poached each year

pub­lished 21 Octo­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 21 Octo­ber 2016

Snow Leopard Ounce Report coverWith pos­si­bly as few as 4,000 snow leop­ards sur­viv­ing in the wild, a new report from TRAF­FIC has found that hun­dreds of the endan­gered big cats are being killed ille­gally each year across their range in Asia’s high mountains.

Pub­lished ahead of today’s UN meet­ing on snow leop­ards and Inter­na­tional Snow Leop­ard Day on Sun­day, the report An Ounce of Pre­ven­tion: Snow leop­ard crime revis­ited esti­mates that between 221450 snow leop­ards have been poached annu­ally since 2008 — a min­i­mum of 4 per week. But this num­ber could be sub­stan­tially higher since many killings in remote areas go undetected.

Com­bat­ting poach­ing and ille­gal trade of snow leop­ards is a key objec­tive of the Global Snow Leop­ard Ecosys­tem Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram (GSLEP), which unites all 12 snow leop­ard range coun­tries with inter­gov­ern­men­tal and non-​governmental orga­ni­za­tion part­ners. The GSLEP Sec­re­tariat is among the orga­niz­ers of today’s UN meet­ing.

TRAFFIC’s analy­sis con­firms the wor­ry­ing scale of ille­gal killing of snow leopards
James Comp­ton, Senior Pro­gramme Direc­tor with TRAFFIC »

This urgent wake-​up call pro­vides a blue­print for GSLEP action at national and trans­bound­ary lev­els to pro­tect snow leop­ards from threats posed by poach­ing and traf­fick­ing,” said Compton.

Using a com­bi­na­tion of meth­ods, includ­ing seizure records, mar­ket sur­veys and expert inter­views to pro­vide the first quan­ti­ta­tive esti­mates of the scale of snow leop­ard poach­ing and traf­fick­ing since 2003, the report found that the major­ity of snow leop­ards are killed in retal­i­a­tion for attacks on live­stock (55%) or by non-​targeted meth­ods, such as snares (18%).

Snow Leopard skinsOnly 21 per­cent of snow leop­ards were poached specif­i­cally for the ille­gal trade in their pelts and prod­ucts. How­ever, the report found that over half the retal­ia­tory and non-​targeted poach­ing inci­dents result in oppor­tunis­tic attempts to sell, con­tribut­ing to the esti­mated 108219 snow leop­ards that are ille­gally traded each year.

Inter­est­ingly, the report also found a steep decline in the num­ber of snow leop­ards observed in trade and in mar­kets, par­tic­u­larly in China, which sug­gests that demand could be falling — per­haps due to increased enforcement.

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,” said Rishi Sharma, WWF Snow Leop­ard Pro­gramme leader and co-​author of the report. “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.”

The report calls on gov­ern­ments to mit­i­gate human-​wildlife con­flict by pre­vent­ing snow leop­ards from killing live­stock, off­set­ting the costs of live­stock losses, and expand­ing community-​based con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes. It also rec­om­mends strength­en­ing both national and trans­bound­ary law enforce­ment, espe­cially as less than a quar­ter of known cases of snow leop­ard poach­ing were inves­ti­gated and just 14 per­cent were prosecuted.

The report also rec­om­mends that TRAF­FIC main­tains the snow leop­ard crime data­base that was devel­oped as part of the cur­rent research. The data­base con­tains records of seizures and obser­va­tions of snow leop­ard killing, cap­ture and trade dat­ing back to 1989.

The snow leop­ard crime data­base is a crit­i­cal resource for every­one involved in efforts to reduce poach­ing and ille­gal trade in the species and will help to tar­get inter­ven­tions at key points across snow leop­ard range,” said Kristin Now­ell, lead author of the report. “But we need to expand efforts to mon­i­tor activ­ity on the Inter­net and social media as snow leop­ard traf­fick­ers may be mov­ing online to try to evade law enforcement.”

Accord­ing to the report, over 90 per­cent of the reported snow leop­ard poach­ing occurred in five range coun­tries: China, Mon­go­lia, Pak­istan, India and Tajik­istan. Nepal was also flagged for hav­ing rel­a­tively high poach­ing lev­els con­sid­er­ing its rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion of snow leop­ards. China and Rus­sia were most fre­quently iden­ti­fied as des­ti­na­tions for ani­mals poached in other coun­tries. Afghanistan has also been a major ille­gal mar­ket for snow leop­ard furs over the past decade.

Finan­cial sup­port for the research and pub­li­ca­tion of the report was pro­vided by the WWF Con­ser­va­tion and Adap­ta­tion in Asia’s High Moun­tain Land­scapes and Com­mu­ni­ties Project, funded by the United States Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment (USAID).

(Source: TRAF­FIC news release, 21.10.2016)

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