Snow leopards occasionally kill livestock, but their populations are sustained by wild prey like bharal and ibex and not by livestock. Livestock killing, of course, is a serious concern for herders, causing emotional and economic setback. When snow leopards manage to get into corrals, surplus killing often takes place, which is especially devastating for the livestock owning families.
Snow leopards generally do not attack people, other than under highly exceptional circumstances. They are capable of harming people, however; they have the ability to hunt down animals much larger than themselves.
Available research does not point to the existence of ‘problem animals’ or individual snow leopards that habitually kill livestock. Radio-collaring data do show that adult males kill more livestock compared to younger males and adult females.
Therefore, removing a snow leopard that has killed livestock will not solve the problem of livestock predation, as most snow leopards may kill livestock when they have a chance. Removing snow leopards from the wild may, instead, create many other problems.
If a snow leopard is captured and sent to captivity each time a livestock has been killed, we might see the extinction of the species from the wild in a short period of time.
Capturing snow leopards that have killed livestock can result in local communities themselves starting to routinely capture them. It would be dangerous to people, a disservice to conservation, and would be against the law.
The solution lies in working with local communities to promote snow leopard conservation and designing and implementing community-based conservation programmes.
We ourselves have been working successfully with local communities in countless villages across the snow leopard’s range. These programmes aim at promoting coexistence between people and snow leopards, reducing the chances of livestock predation through collaborative predator-proofing of corrals, creating community-managed livestock insurance programmes, and skills and livelihood enhancement programmes especially to support women. Such investments can help people and snow leopards co-exist.
Our teams also offer training programmes for community-based conservation for practicing conservationists and field staff.