Friday, 28 October 2016

Hundreds of endangered wild snow leopards are killed each year

21 October 2016

By Andy Coghlan

As many as 450 endangered snow leopards have been killed each year since 2008, a report on the fate of the mountain cats estimates.

Only 4000 to 7000 of the animals are thought to remain in the 12 mountainous Asian countries they inhabit.

A big surprise is that more than half the killings – 55 per cent – are estimated to be done by herders avenging livestock attacks by leopards, with only 21 per cent of the cats taken by poachers.

“It’s a completely new insight, and provides a very important point for discussion on how to ensure snow leopards are protected,” says Rishi Sharma, leader of wildlife charity WWF’s snow leopard programme.

“More than half the killing is not for illegal trade as such, so as long as we don’t address these issues affecting local communities, it will continue,” warns Sharma, who is a co-author of the new report by TRAFFIC, the global organisation monitoring the illegal trade in endangered species.
The insight offers potential new ways to address the problem, says Sharma. These will be discussed today in New York at a summit on snow leopard conservation convened by the UN Development Programme in conjunction with the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program.

Compensation plan
The report proposes two key measures. First, governments in the 12 countries across the leopard’s range should increase the funds available to compensate herders whose animals are killed.

Second, herders should be given extra materials to strengthen the pens, or corrals, where they keep their animals at night.

“They’re often made of mud patched up with flimsy wood materials, so it’s easy for snow leopards to break in,” says Sharma. “When they do, there’s such a commotion that they tend to kill several livestock animals, as many as 15 or 20, and that’s very difficult for local herders to tolerate.”

Strengthening the corrals could therefore offer a major defence against snow leopard predation, preventing the significant losses of yaks, cows, donkeys, horses, sheep and goats that trigger retaliation.

Likewise, when leopards attack individual animals grazing on mountain slopes during the day, better compensation packages could discourage revenge.

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