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The snow leopard is widely considered an endangered species. That’s mainly due to its fast-dwindling population.
But what exactly does it mean to be endangered in the first place? Read on as we expound on the term, with a special focus on snow leopards.
What Are Snow Leopards?
The snow leopard, also known as the ounce, is a species in the Panthera genus native to Central and South Asia mountains. The animal derives its name from its native range of snowy mountains.
Snow leopards cover a relatively vast geographical area that ranges from eastern Afghanistan to the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. A decent population of these animals is also widespread across southern Siberia, much of Mongolia, and western China.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Suborder: Feliformia
- Family: Felidae
- Subfamily: Pantherinae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: Panthera uncia
Are Slow Leopards Really Endangered?
The snow leopard appears in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list of vulnerable species. But does that make the animal endangered?
Well, the answer can be yes or no.
The snow leopard is endangered in the broader application of the word. However, there may be technical differences between the terms ‘endangered’ and ‘vulnerable.’
A vulnerable species refers to an organism facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The term is often used in contrast with the following related words;
• Endangered – A species facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild
• Critically Endangered – A species facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
• Threatened – Any species listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered
Despite the technical differences between ‘vulnerable’ and ‘endangered,’ both terms imply that the species in question is facing real dangers of extinction. And in most cases, the more general word ‘endangered’ is used instead of ‘vulnerable.’
How Many Snow Leopards Are Left In The World?
According to the IUCN, there are an estimated 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards in the wild.
The conservation group further predicts that the number may decline by about 10% by 2040 if serious interventions aren’t put in place to arrest the situation.
How Accurate Is The 4,080 – 6,590 Estimate?
Organizations like the IUCN can only give estimates on the global snow leopard population. It’s a bit difficult to arrive at the actual figure. That’s mainly due to a snow leopard’s relatively inaccessible landscape.
Snow animals are generally difficult to track down due to the often-unforgiving nature of their natural habitats. It doesn’t help that snow leopards prefer the snowy landscapes of mountainous ranges.
Besides, snow leopards share one fundamental behavioral trait with most big cats – elusiveness. These animals can easily hide in plain sight. Their spotted bodies help them blend in with their snowy environment.
But while it’s difficult to figure out the actual number of snow leopards in the wild, the one indisputable fact is that these animals have experienced a worrying decline in population in the last couple of years.
Why Are Snow Leopards Endangered?
Snow leopards face all manner of risks. Notable ones include;
Snow leopard poaching has declined tremendously since the late-1990s. But the practice still persists and it’s threatening the population of this vulnerable species.
Snow leopards are mainly prized for their skin and fur. The animals’ bones and skin are also used in jewelry making and traditional medicine practices.
Nearly all wild animals are subject to illegal killing and trade. However, snow leopards are at a higher risk due to their remote habitats, which allows poachers to carry out their illegal undertakings undetected. It’s only worse if you consider the economic conditions of people who live near the snow leopard’s native range.
2. Prey Competition
Snow leopards typically prey on wild mountain sheep and goats. Local communities also hunt these animals for food.
The death of a single wild goat means a snow leopard could go without food for a couple of days.
3. Human-Wildlife Conflict
When we kill the very animals that snow leopards consider their primary prey, these cats may be forced to venture closer to our settlements hunting livestock. And that’s when deadly confrontations can ensue.
Humans have also played a huge role in escalating the depletion of a snow leopard’s natural habitat. This mainly happens when local communities graze their livestock in areas naturally occupied by the leopard’s main prey – wild mountain sheep and goats.
Besides, the ever-expanding human population has resulted in the clearing of lands initially inhabited by snow leopards for the purposes of settlement, urbanization, and industrialization.
4. Climate Change
Climate change has far-reaching implications, not only on human survival but also on that of many other animal species like snow leopards. The ever-rising heat waves are slowly taking a toll on the only habitats snow leopards call home.
Without urgent interventions, we might watch the once-precious glaciers melt right before our eyes. And if that happens, the snow leopards will be forced to either adapt to other habitats or prowl their way to extinction.
Snow leopards are a vulnerable species. Whether you live amongst these cats or not, you can play your role in preventing them from making the IUCN’s critically endangered list.
Start by raising awareness through your social media handles on the perils of snow leopard poaching. You can also consider donating to organizations actively involved in snow leopard preservation, such as the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Snow Leopard Trust.