While the snow leopard is a top predator in its mountain ecosystem, human activities pose serious threats to these cats and their habitat.
- Poaching: Snow leopards are known for their beautiful fur, which are highly valued in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russian for garment making. Their bones and other body parts are in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine and wild snow leopards are sometimes captured for private animal collections in Central Asia. Many poachers are local residents who live in snow leopard habitat areas. These regions face high levels of poverty, and poaching offers a source of extra income that can be used to meet the most basic necessities of life, including food and shelter.
- Retribution Killings: When there is not enough wild prey, snow leopards will sometimes resort to hunting domestic livestock. Herders are dependent on these animals for both money and food, and the loss of even a single sheep or goat can cause economic hardship for an entire family. Herders in snow leopard areas are left with little choice but to retaliate against the snow leopard to prevent future attacks. They use traps, poison, and rifles to kill wild snow leopards.
- Loss of Habitat and Prey: Because herding communities depend on their livestock financially, there is an incentive to increase the size of a herd. These growing numbers of domestic livestock need to eat more wild grasses, which leads to overgrazing. This activity reduces the amount of food available to the wild sheep and goats that snow leopards typically eat, reducing their numbers. Additionally, humans hunt these wild prey species for meat and trophies, decreasing wild prey even further.
- Mining: Mining activities also threaten snow leopard habitat. Miners use dangerous chemicals and explosives to extract minerals from the mountains where snow leopards live. These open pit mines cause severe ecological damage that forces snow leopards and their prey to relocate.
- Lack of Resources: Many herding families are faced with extreme financial hurdles and cannot devote time or resources to improving local ecology. Similarly, governments in snow leopard habitat areas are focused on economic development and environmental policy is not often pursued. Enforcing the laws that protect snow leopards can come with high cost, and it is difficult to catch poachers in the remote and rugged habitat where snow leopards live.
Thank you for taking the time to read about this beautiful endangered cat. 🙂