Bangkok: Colony Of Threatened Snow Leopards Discovered In Afghanistan

15 Jul

BANGKOK (AP) — A healthy population of snow leopards, elusive big cats threatened across their homes in the mountain ranges of Central Asia, has been found in one of the few peaceful areas of Afghanistan, a wildlife group said.

www.LiveScience.com

Camera traps documented the secretive, usually solitary animals at 16 different locations across the Wakhan Corridor, a long panhandle in northeastern Afghanistan free from the insurgency that plagues most of the country, the World Conservation Society said in a statement seen Friday.

Listed as globally threatened, only some 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards exist, scattered across a dozen nations in the high mountain ranges of Central Asia. The cats are poached for their pelts and killed by shepherds guarding their flocks upon which the leopards sometimes prey.

The sleek, fuzzy-tailed leopards are also captured for the pet trade, while an increasing demand for their penises and bones in China, where some believe they enhance sexual performance, has also led to their decimation.

“This is a wonderful discovery. It shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan. Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage,” Peter Zahler, the World Conservation Society’s deputy Asia director, said in the statement.

The New York-based group has been working in the Wakhan Corridor, which borders China, Pakistan and Tajikistan, since 2006 on protecting wildlife including the Marco Polo sheep and the ibex. George Schaller, a wildlife biologist with the society, has proposed creating a reserve in the region.

The statement, released Wednesday, did not estimate the number of leopards in the corridor, but said they remained threatened.

The society, which works with the U.S. government’s aid arm, USAID, is providing conservation education in every Wakhan school, has trained 59 rangers to monitor wildlife, constructed predator-proof livestock corrals and started an insurance scheme to compensate shepherds for livestock taken by predators, according to the statement

NEWS UPDATE:

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Thanks to the vigilant eye of camera traps stationed high in Afghanistan’s remote northeast mountains, researchers have uncovered exciting news: A population of endangered snow leopards, one of the most elusive big cats on the planet, is thriving in the region.

The big cats live among the dramatic peaks of the desolate Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of land 220 miles (354 kilometers) long, and sandwiched between Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and a tiny border with China to the east.

Camera traps captured shots of the spotted cats at 16 different locations across the region, the first time the technology has been used in Afghanistan to document the rare animals.

“This is a wonderful discovery; it shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan,” said Peter Zahler, deputy director for Asia Programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a statement.

Although snow leopards once roamed many of Central Asia’s mountain regions, the species has suffered declines as high as 20 percent in the last 16 years. Researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that conducted the camera trap studies, say a mere 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards still wander in the wild.

“Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage,” Zahler said.

A Wildlife Conservation Society study examining the plight of snow leopards in Afghanistan — the species is threatened by poaching, the illegal pet trade and run-ins with angry shepherds who don’t appreciate the cats eating their charges — was published in the June 29 issue of the Journal of Environmental Studies.

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