NEWS

Snow Leopards Are No Longer Listed As Endangered

It doesn't mean that they're safe from extinction though.

15/09/2017 11:04 AM AEST | Updated 15/09/2017 11:04 AM AEST

For the first time in 35 years, the conservation status of the elusive snow leopard has improved from "endangered" to "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Considered to be the king of Central Asia's mountains for millennia, the species' population was decimated by a culmination of habitat loss, poaching and climate change.

Known as the "ghost of the mountains" due to their solitary nature, snow leopards call 12 countries home -- including Nepal and Afghanistan.

Russell Cheyne / Reuters
Because they don't hang out in groups, there's no word for a group of snow leopards.

While the improvement in their status is good news, scientists have warned that the big cats aren't in the all clear just yet, with the population thought to be less than 10,000 -- though some organisations have said this is more likely to be closer to 4,000.

Dr Tom McCarthy, executive director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Program, explained that while gently increased conservation efforts have aided in improving the snow leopard's status, it's important not to misinterpret the IUCN's listing.

"This is why we must stress the risks the cat still faces and ensure conservation efforts continue unabated," he said in a Q&A with Panthera.

Jim Young / Reuters
Still not safe -- poaching and the hunting of the snow leopard's prey is still a threat to the elegant cats.

"It has been suggested that a 'downlist' could lead to reduced funding for conservation. To some extent, that is true. Some funding sources are restricted to Endangered or Critically Endangered species.

"But the potential impact to funding cannot be considered when conducting the assessment. Doing so would be unethical and would call the integrity of the Red List process itself into question."

Continuing threats to the species' survival includes poaching by hunters for their thick fur as well as the over-hunting of its wild prey, according to Peter Zahler of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

"There is also an increasing number of domestic livestock raised by local people in these high mountains that degrades the delicate grasslands, disturbs wild sheep and goats and drives them into less productive habitats," he said in a statement.

"The loss of wild prey can lead to attacks on domestic stock, which itself can lead to retaliatory killing of snow leopards by local shepherds."

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