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According to a new report, illegal killing and poaching of snow leopards is taking a toll on the population of this big cat with just over 4,000 of these said to be living in the wild. The report notes that as many as four snow leopards are being slaughtered on a weekly basis and authorities of countries where these leopards are found in natural habitats need to amplify their conservation efforts to ensure their protection.

An Ounce of Prevention: Snow Leopard Crime Revisited notes that since 2008 as many as 450 leopards are being killed annually across the globe and while these numbers are high enough, they could be much higher considering that not all killings are accounted for – specifically those which are being carried out in remote places. To combat poaching and illegal killing of these big cats, an organization dubbed Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) has been set up for quite sometime now and comprises of members where these snow leopards are found.

The report calls upon the GSLEP member nations to ensure that much more stringent laws are in place to combat the poaching and killing as well as trafficking of these big cats and save the declining population of snow leopards.

The authors of the report used a number of different methods including seizure records, market surveys and expert interviews to come to the first ever quantitative estimates of the scale of snow leopard poaching and trafficking since 2003. The report notes that majority of snow leopards are killed as part of revenge in retaliation for attacks on livestock (55 per cent) or by non-targeted methods, such as snares (18 per cent). This effectively means that humans are increasingly stepping into the boundaries of the places where these snow leopards are living.

Only 21 per cent of snow leopards were poached specifically for the illegal trade in their pelts and products. However, the report found that over half the retaliatory and non-targeted poaching incidents result in opportunistic attempts to sell, contributing to the estimated 108-219 snow leopards that are illegally traded each year.

The report found a rather steep decline in the number of snow leopards observed in trade and in markets, particularly in China, and this could be an indication that the demand could be falling because of increased enforcement. However, decline in demands won’t stop the killings and there is a need for continued efforts on a much higher scale as well as support of the local community where these leopards are found.

The report calls on governments to mitigate human-wildlife conflict by preventing snow leopards from killing livestock, offsetting the costs of livestock losses, and expanding community-based conservation programmes. It also recommends strengthening both national and transboundary law enforcement, especially as less than a quarter of known cases of snow leopard poaching were investigated and just 14 percent were prosecuted.

The report also recommends that TRAFFIC maintains the snow leopard crime database that was developed as part of the current research. The database contains records of seizures and observations of snow leopard killing, capture and trade dating back to 1989.

According to the report, over 90 percent of the reported snow leopard poaching occurred in five range countries: China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. Nepal was also flagged for having relatively high poaching levels considering its relatively small population of snow leopards. China and Russia were most frequently identified as destinations for animals poached in other countries. Afghanistan has also been a major illegal market for snow leopard furs over the past decade.

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