Update on Critical Effort to Save Snow Leopards from Poaching and Trafficking

Photo credit: Eric Kilby / Creative Commons

One of our most widely shared international wildlife conservation social media posts from 2018 focused on a project we helped support to combat the trafficking of snow leopards. Given that level of interest, we thought we would provide an update on the project for Snow Leopard Day, which falls on October 23rd each year.

For the aforementioned project, the goal of our partners at the Snow Leopard Trust has been to build a database of information about snow leopard poaching. They want to take this action because snow leopards are poached for their fur and their bones, and having more information about when and where these incidents occur could help inform conservation actions. Unfortunately, it is thought that the intensity of poaching threatens these charismatic animals with extinction. A rough estimate prior to this project suggested that between 220–450 snow leopards have been poached annually since 2008. That’s a challenging number for the global population to incur when it is estimated that only around 4,000–6,000 snow leopards remain in the wild.

The good news is that the Snow Leopard Trust, working with the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) and other partners, has made significant progress in creating a new database and establishing protocols to manage the quality and consistency of the data. Perhaps more importantly, the governments of all 12 snow leopard range countries have unanimously endorsed the project and have pledged to participate in sharing their data to help inform current and future conservation actions. Data are also being collected from partnering organizations and open source media reports of poaching and confiscations of illegal snow leopard furs and products. Based on some early numbers in the database, there have been 297 snow leopard or trafficking cases connected to 135 different locations. While these data are incomplete and are not yet representative of the full data anticipated to become available, they underscore the scope of pressure that snow leopards face from poaching. One of the benefits of the new database will be its ability to distinguish between duplicate reporting of the some of the same poaching incidents, which can be frequently recycled by the media even if the images and reports they publish are actually just repeated from previous years.

Recently a dedicated data manager was hired to manage the database and help analyze the information it collects. The Snow Leopard Trust also plans to continue disseminating their findings to partners regularly, including at an upcoming meeting of GLESP parties. While the conservation challenges snow leopards face will continue, this project should give us all hope that the information we need to save these amazing animals is far closer to being available than it was several years ago, before the project began.

Learn more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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