Snow leopards' return brings hope to remote Afghan region

Sep 15, 2016

In this June 8, 2012 camera trap photo provided by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a snow leopard walks on Pamir mountains in Sarkand valley, Wakhan district of Badakhshan province, far northeastern Afghanistan. In this picturesque corner of Afghanistan, a unique conservation effort has helped bring the elusive snow leopard back from the brink and given hope to one of the poorest and most isolated communities on earth.

 

WAKHAN, Afghanistan (AP) — In a picturesque corner of Afghanistan, a unique conservation effort has helped bring the elusive snow leopard back from the brink and given hope to one of the poorest and most isolated communities on earth.

The leopards range across the snowy mountains of a dozen countries in Central and South Asia, but their numbers had declined in recent decades as hunters sought their spotted pelts and farmers killed them to protect livestock. Now they appear to be thriving, thanks to a seven-year program and a newly declared national park.

Scientists who have been tracking the shy leopards estimate there are up to 140 cats in the Wakhan National Park, established two years ago across 1 million square hectares (4,200 square miles). Stephane Ostrowski, a specialist with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, says that's a healthy and sustainable number, and indicates that other species like the Siberian ibex and golden marmot — the leopards' main prey — are also doing well.

The WCS believes global leopard numbers could be much higher than a previous upper estimate of 7,500, after data gathered by Ostrowski and others showed there could be more than 8,000 in just 44 percent of the animal's known range. The World Wildlife Fund lists the species as "endangered."

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