Statement on IUCN Red List Status Change of the Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard Trust, one the leading conservation organizations working to protect this cat, opposes the IUCN's decision to change the snow leopard's Red List status from 'Endangered' to 'Vulnerable'.

Please also see ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on the Snow Leopard’s Red List Status here

Today, the IUCN has announced that it is down-listing the snow leopard on the Red List of Threatened Species from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’ – the next lower category of risk.  A ‘Vulnerable’ listing on the Red List is still a major cause for concern though, with vulnerable species considered “to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.”

 

The Snow Leopard Trust opposed this status change. We believe the best available science does not justify it, and that it could have serious consequences for the species.

The IUCNs guidelines make it clear that any status assessment should follow a precautionary approach. If the best available data aren’t conclusive, no down-listing should be done.

In the case of the snow leopard, less than 2% of the species’ range has ever been sampled for abundance using reliable techniques, and those data are biased toward high-density areas. The new assessment behind the status change of the snow leopard does not improve on this data and appears to use methodologies – such as asking people how many snow leopards they think exist in any area – that are not recognized as scientifically valid for estimating populations.

In contrast, the latest information based on genetic and trap camera surveys from one of the range countries, i.e. Pakistan, where a large proportion of the habitat has been sampled, shows that the snow leopard population there could be as low as 40 cats, and is almost certainly lower than 100, compared to the earlier guesstimate of 200-420 cats. This varying data suggests that snow leopard populations in some parts of their habitat may be lower than assumed, and that more robust science is needed to ensure an accurate assessment before revising the status.

A recent study indicates that the snow leopard population of Pakistan may be significantly lower than previously assumed. Photo: SLF Pakistan / Snow Leopard Trust

In addition, demographic modeling based on the limited solid data that is available actually showed results in favor of an Endangered listing.

Given these circumstances, and taking into account the growing threats to the snow leopard’s survival, we had argued for the status to remain Endangered, and will be calling on IUCN to revisit the decision through the appropriate channels.

The potential consequences of an unwarranted down-listing could be very serious. In the last four years, range country governments have launched the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Program, the first range-wide initiative to protect these cats. There has never been as much political will or momentum to secure the snow leopard’s future.  However, conservation action might become harder to justify politically if there is a belief that the cat’s situation has improved.

We do know that the threats to snow leopard survival are growing. Climate change threatens two-thirds of snow leopard habitat.  Snow leopard habitats are increasingly facing mining pressures. Illegal hunting, poaching, and retaliatory killing of snow leopards are on the rise in many areas. We are most concerned about how the lower status may weaken conservation efforts in range countries and the ability of local governments to stop these threats. Governments may have less support from some sectors of their society to create protected areas for snow leopards given the potential revised status. We have earlier successfully opposed plans to commercially hunt snow leopards for trophy, and we anticipate that these pressures will increase.

In short, we think the status change is unjustified and detrimental to the conservation of the snow leopard. The snow leopard may not officially be listed as Endangered anymore, but there is no doubt that it very much remains in danger.

For more information please contact

Matt Fiechter, Communications Manager | matt@snowleopard.org | +46703499810

Michael Despines, Executive Director | michael@snowleopard.org | +1206322421

Charu Mishra, Science & Conservation Director | charu@snowleopard.org | +919845422080

About Snow Leopard Trust

The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as governments across snow leopard habitat to protect the cat. Visit www.snowleopard.org and follow us on Twitter @snowleopards.

20 Comments

  1. It is very sad that we humans believe that The Earth belongs to us; We share this planet with other forms of life which we many times damage and abuse. Someone who I admire very much said the following: “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”..It seems very silly that based upon a number “2,500” and other general parameters the IUCN has taken this action. Yet, burocracy is what it is (even though there are some fine people involved).

    Please count on me to help save the incredible and beautiful snow leopard!! – Miiau!!

  2. Why on earth would the IUCN take such an action at this time? What was their reasoning and what is the intended purpose of the downlisting? This action is highly suspicious, and seems potentially politically motivated to me. I thought this organization was supposed to make its decisions based on sound science, but this decision is not based on any science, it would appear. I am incredibly disheartened and saddened to hear this news, particularly given all of the outstanding work that SLT has been doing and significant progress it has been making lately. This decision will only make that work more challenging, as your statement so aptly points out. I commend your statement on the downlisting, very well put.

    1. Look here: https://www.panthera.org/…/Panthera_QA_SL092017_0.pdf. This provides an explanation. The IUCN Red List assessment is a rigorous process in the course of which assessed species assigned to categories of extinction risk, based on established criteria. Fortunately there is indication that snow leopards don’t meet the criteria for “Endangered” anymore, but for “Vulnerable”. This means, there are most likely more than 2500 mature animals in the wild and the decline is less than 20% in 16 years. So, they are still threatened and it does not mean that they will get les attention and conservation effort.

      1. Thanks Stefan. While we are highly concerned by the growing threats faced by the species, including a potential loss of 2/3rds of snow leopard habitat to climate change, and the death of one snow leopard a day due to the illegal wildlife trade and retribution killing – these concerns are not the basis of our opposition to the status change. Instead, it is based on the criteria established by the IUCN for a species to be listed as Vulnerable, as cited by you. Our analysis of the available data provides no clear indication that the snow leopard population is greater than previous estimates or that the rate of decline has slowed down. Thus, we challenge the assertion that it’s ‘most likely’ that there are more than 2,500 mature individuals. Given the lack of solid evidence for a larger population, we feel the status change is unwarranted.

      1. Well, they are. The ‘Vulnerable’ status means that a species faces a high risk of extinction in the near future. The snow leopard isn’t on the verge of disappearing like for instance the vaquita, where there doesn’t seem to be much hope – but make no mistake, if threats such as retaliation killings, poaching or loss of prey and habitat aren’t addressed broadly across the cat’s range, the snow leopard will indeed go extinct in a few generations.

  3. This is a no-brainer! In their own rules and regulations the IUCN says this. ‘ The relevant factor is whether, ‘any one, ‘criterion’ is met, not whether all are appropriate for a particular taxon, each taxon should be evaluated against all the criteria, and ‘all’ criteria met at the highest threat category must be listed.( IUCN Red List, categories and criteria version 3.1, second edition 9th February 2000. Support our cause before extinction.
    Marty

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