Snow Cat Snapshots
July 14, 2011
The first snapshots of snow leopards in Afghanistan have emerged from within the Wakhan Corridor. Across
Central Asia, numbers for the rare cat fall somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500.
At least some of those leopards, WCS conservationists have found, live
amidst the mountains and ravines of northeastern Afghanistan.
“This is a wonderful discovery – it shows that there
is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan,” said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy
Director for Asia Programs. “Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent
animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage.”
At 16 separate locations,
the elusive cats triggered camera traps, revealing their white-and-black
visages to the researchers--and now, the world. Unfortunately, this endangered species faces challenges
in the region. The cat’s beautiful, thick coat makes it a prime target for the
fur and pet trades. Local shepherds also persecute the animals, considering
them threats to their livestock. Within the last 16 years, the total snow leopard
population dropped 20 percent.
Since 2006, WCS has worked in the Wakhan Corridor with support from USAID. The goal is to improve
local livelihoods while protecting the region’s biodiversity. Along with snow
leopards, Marco Polo sheep and ibex roam the countryside. One WCS initiative
constructs livestock corrals that are predator proof. Additionally, an insurance
program compensates shepherds for losses of their animals to predation. Research,
however, has so far shown that few livestock animals actually fall prey to the wild
Training and education lie
at the core of WCS’s efforts in the region. Currently, every school in the
Wakhan features conservation education in its curriculum. To date, WCS has
helped train 59 wildlife rangers to reduce poaching in the region.
“By developing a community-led management approach,”
said WCS’s Anthony Simms, the study’s lead author, “we believe snow leopards
will be conserved in Afghanistan over the long term.”
For more information on our work in Afghanistan and
with snow leopards elsewhere, see the press release.
WCS is committed to studying and protecting snow leopards in Afghanistan. We work with every community in the Wakhan, training and deploying village rangers who set the camera traps that took these photographs and perform regular patrols to enforce local and national laws against poaching. We work on community and school-based conservation education to raise awareness about the need for conservation of wildlife, including snow leopards. Through these initiatives, it is now much harder for poachers to operate in the Wakhan. Finally, we work on the ‘demand’ end, educating potential purchasers to eliminate the sale of snow leopard pelts and products in Kabul. Please see www.wcsafghanistan.org to learn more about our program in Afghanistan.