Long-endangered snow leopard upgraded to 'vulnerable' status


The elusive snow leopard — long considered endangered — has been upgraded to "vulnerable," though conservations warned the new classification does not mean they are safe.

The animals still face serious challenges including poaching and loss of prey in their high Himalayan habitat.

"The species still faces 'a high risk of extinction in the wild' and is likely still declining — just not at the rate previously thought," said Tom McCarthy, head of the snow leopard program at the big cat conservation group Panthera.

Snow leopards had been listed as endangered since 1972.

The reclassification announced Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, followed a three-year assessment that determined there are not fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards in the wild, and that their numbers are not in steep decline — the two criteria for being considered "endangered."

Using improved methods for assessing the cats' population, experts estimated about 4,000 live in the wild, though there could be as many as 10,000.

Scientists have managed to survey only a small fraction of the animal's high-mountain range, an area covering some 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) crossing into 12 countries in Asia.

Doing the research "is difficult," said Peter Zahler, coordinator of the snow leopard program at the Willdife Conservation Society, who was involved in the multi-agency team's assessment. "It involves an enormous amount of work in some of the most remote and inhospitable regions of the world."

New technologies, including camera traps and satellite collaring, are "giving us better information about where snow leopards are and how far they range," he said.

Some positive developments included an increase in the number of protected areas, as well as stepped-up efforts by local communities to protect the animals from poachers.

Communities were also working to prevent cases of local herdsmen retaliating for lost livestock by building predator-proof livestock corrals, team member Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy group said in a statement.

Still, the animals are hunted for their thick fur and bones. They also face declining numbers of wild prey, as domestic livestock have degraded grasslands.

Whether they might be impacted by global warming remains uncertain. But scientists agree the Himalayas are one of the world's most susceptible regions to climate change.

"Saying snow leopards are now 'vulnerable' rather than 'endangered' doesn't mean they're safe," Zahler said. "It doesn't take much to make large predators disappear from landscapes. We've seen it happen over and over again around the world."

___

Follow Katy Daigle on Twitter at twitter.com/katydaigle


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Starbucks thief plans to sue man who stopped him, police say 
Starbucks thief plans to sue man who stopped him, police say 

A California man who allegedly tried to hold up a Starbucks barista at gunpoint, now plans to sue the customer who tried to stop him. Authorities said Ryan Flores, 30, attempted to rob a Starbucks in Fresno in July, but 58-year-old Cregg Jerri picked up a chair and hit Flores in the back with it. The two got into a violent scuffle, and both sustained...
National Pepperoni Pizza Day 2017: Deals, bargains from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and more
National Pepperoni Pizza Day 2017: Deals, bargains from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and more

To many of us, every day is pepperoni pizza day, but on the calendar of official “food days,” Wednesday is National Pepperoni Pizza Day. With pepperoni as the most ordered topping on pizza, you are going to want to celebrate, right? Who wouldn’t? Here are some some National Pepperoni Day (and other day) deals. Chuck E. Cheese: ...
Murder suspect parties in victim's home after hiding body, police say
Murder suspect parties in victim's home after hiding body, police say

Police say that after allegedly murdering a 71-year-old woman, a Texas man hid her body and invited friends over to her house to party. >> Read more trending news  Michael McClendon, 45, is currently being held on a $500,000 bail for the capital murder of Norma Rae Kakacek, who was found dead of multiple stab wounds and a cut...
Kids drive themselves to operating room in pint-sized cars
Kids drive themselves to operating room in pint-sized cars

Undergoing surgery and being loaded onto a gurney may be scary for some kids. But a children’s hospital in San Diego may have found a more fun way of getting young patients to the operating room. Rady Children’s Hospital allows kids to drive themselves to the OR in mini luxury cars, Reuters reported. The cars, which were donated by...
Alaska’s Murkowski is in the health-care spotlight. Again.
Alaska’s Murkowski is in the health-care spotlight. Again.

Lisa Murkowski walked briskly down a cavernous hallway on the first floor of the Capitol, awash in a small sea of reporters. Suddenly she paused, seemingly overcome by the pressure of the moment.  "You guys - hold," the Republican senator from Alaska said curtly. "Give me breathing room, please. It gets a little intense. I know...
More Stories