By MELISSA T. CASTRO
The Himalayan people refer to snow leopards as ghosts of the mountain, and these ghosts have increased in number over the last three years.
This is good news. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), snow leopards are no longer listed as endangered, but rather have been reclassified as vulnerable.
In terms of numbers, this means the population of this majestic cat now oscillates between 2,500 and 10,000 mature individuals living in the wild, with the IUCN placing their estimate at 4,000.
But not all conservancy groups are celebrating.
The Snow Leopard Trust released a statement opposing the IUCN’s decision, claiming the move was not adequately justified, disagreeing with the methodology of the study, the sample size and the scope of the area studied. The trust concluded that “it could have serious consequences for the species.”
It’s important to remember that this is not a success yet. The cats are still in danger.
According to Dr. Tom McCarthy, director of the conservatory group Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, “the species still faces a high risk of extinction in the wild and is likely still declining — just not at the rate previously thought.”
Increased awareness of the cats dwindling numbers, along with major action by worldwide conservancy groups, has led to direct reforms and changes in the 12 Himalayan linked nations with the Kingdom of Bhutan as a leading example.
Bhutan has classified the felines as totally protected wild animals under their Forest and Nature conservation Act, and has designated 42 percent of the kingdom’s territory as national parks, guaranteeing their habitat.
The Buddhist kingdom did not stop there. The country decided to work with local farmers to protect their livestock, most commonly the Tibetan blue sheep, which is a favored prey of the leopards.
By teaching farmers how to build predator-proof corrals, Bhutan has significantly reduced the human-wildlife conflict. Local ranchers no longer feel the need to retaliate against the leopards by trapping, poisoning or shooting them.
But farmers, unfortunately, are not the cat’s only enemies. Conservancy groups must also contend with poachers who hunt the cats for their fur, mining pressures, global warming and the constant expansion of agriculture and industry.
Although there is still work to be done in order to guarantee the continued existence of snow leopards (and the 63,837 other species listed by the IUCN), the resurgence (or slowed decline) of the snow leopard is definitely a positive step for nature and humanity as we stride into 2018.