The report, released on World Snow Leopard Day, estimates that between 220 and 450 snow leopards have been killed across the cat’s range each year since 2008 – that’s at least 4 cats a week! The actual numbers may be even higher, as many killings might go undetected.
With as few as 4,000 snow leopards possibly left in the wild, stopping the killing is an extremely high conservation priority.
Poaching and killing of snow leopards takes many different forms. In about twenty percent of known cases since 2008, cats were killed for their fur or bones. A similar number died in traps that had been set out for wolves and other species. More than half of all cases, however, involved local herders killing cats in retaliation for livestock attacks. Their motive isn’t greed, or cruelty – it’s desperation.
With our conservation programs, we aim to combat all forms of snow leopard poaching and killing.
One key approach is to empower embattled frontline wildlife rangers in the five snow leopard range countries we work in.
For instance, we’ve partnered with INTERPOL and the government of Kyrgyzstan to build a tailor-made program where rangers and their supervisors receive top-notch law enforcement training. Rangers who apprehend poachers are also publicly recognized and rewarded at a yearly event. The media exposure those conservation heroes have received thanks to this program has already raised their standing in society considerably – and it’s making it that much harder for future cases of poaching to be swept under the rug.
Community-based conservation is equally important:
Thriving, prosperous local communities have no incentives to help destroy the ecosystem they live in. They have little reason to poach themselves, or to enable outsiders who come to their area to engage in this dirty business. In fact, they have plenty of reasons to combat it. They’re the first and best line of defense against wildlife crime.
“The recent poaching report once again shows that local people are the key to the snow leopard’s survival”, says Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director. “They can be a key ally against commercial poachers. But they’re also a potential threat themselves.”
Many local communities in snow leopard habitat are under enormous economic pressure and can ill afford to lose livestock to predation. “The livelihoods of entire communities depend on livestock rearing. So herders who lose animals to these cats often view killing as their only option”, Charu Mishra says.
Our community-based conservation programs are designed to prevent such retaliation killings. They offer herders alternatives and provide them with incentives to not harm snow leopards and their prey.
Take the case of Mongolian herder Amara. He used to hate snow leopards. On several occasions, he even tried to kill cats that had attacked his livestock – simply because he could no longer bear the predation losses.
At a community meeting, he wondered aloud if there wasn’t some mechanism that could compensate herders for livestock lost to snow leopards. Our local team immediately seized on the idea – after all, they knew their colleagues in India had been running successful community-based livestock insurance programs for years.
Just months later, Amara was selected to be one of the leaders of the first community-based livestock insurance fund in the South Gobi – a program that has insured almost 20,000 livestock in 5 years. Today, Amara is a community conservation advocate and leader. He no longer views snow leopards as a threat.
Programs like these can foster coexistence and sustainable development. They also lay the foundation to successfully end poaching.
They would not be possible without the Snow Leopard Trust’s many dedicated supporters!