WWF claims that 70% of big cat's habitat remains unexplored
Pakistan’s Shimshal, China’s Tomur National Nature Reserve, along with India, Nepal, and Mongolia have emerged as hotspots of snow leopard research, according to the WWF.
“The spatial spread of snow leopard research showed that India, China, and Nepal had the highest number of studies, comprising more than 50% of global research,” the report titled Over 100 Years of Snow Leopard Research said.
It found that Pakistan covered the largest geographic area with research enumerating snow leopard populations, followed by Bhutan, Nepal, India, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and China.
“Bhutan had the largest proportion of its snow leopard habitat covered by population density-focused research (76%) followed by Pakistan (24%) and Nepal (19%). India, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and China had less than 10% of their range covered, while Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan had no studies.”
The report found that less than 3% of the snow leopard range has been surveyed using rigorous population-density estimation methods including use of camera traps and genetic tools. It said that more than 70% of snow leopard habitat remains unexplored.
“While researchers generally agree that current snow leopard numbers are based on the need to extrapolate broadly from knowledge based on 3% of their range, there has been no large-scale effort to rigorously estimate snow leopard populations across their range,” it added.
While snow leopard abundance and distribution has received a lot of attention, there are still no reliable estimates of snow leopard abundance across the larger part of the snow leopard range and neither has its distribution been mapped accurately.
Snow leopards, known as masters of stealth and camouflage, inhabit the mountain ranges of 12 countries across Central and South Asia: China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.
According to the report, only 35% of the current snow leopard range is predicted to remain as stable climate refugia. Snow leopard habitat is expected to decline by 8-23% by 2070 because of climate impacts.
Only 14-19% of the snow leopard range is protected, with 40% of those protected areas being smaller than a single adult’s home range.
It claimed that between 221 to 450 snow leopards are killed by people annually, 55% of this killing is driven by retaliation for snow leopard predation on livestock.
“There is an urgent need to diversify the agenda for snow leopard research, with an enhanced focus on the spatial ecology of snow leopards in multiple-use landscapes, disease ecology, impacts of climate change, its population dynamics, the relationships between people, livestock, wild ungulates, snow leopards and rangelands and the impacts of infrastructure development on snow leopard habitat selection and use,” the report said.
Globally, there could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards and the remaining population faces traditional and emerging threats. Increased habitat loss and degradation, poaching, and conflict with communities have contributed to a decline in their numbers and left the species hanging by a thread in many places. Though conservationists are addressing such threats, a robust analysis of how effective the interventions are in achieving their objectives remains scarce.
“By identifying gaps in research, the report presents a valuable opportunity to assess and prioritize snow leopard research,” said WWF’s Nilanga Jayasinghe. “Improved knowledge can provide opportunities for data-driven and targeted conservation actions that will not only help snow leopards but the other wildlife and communities that share their space.”