Snow Cat Snapshots

July 14, 2011

Camera trap photos unveil a healthy population of snow leopards living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. Despite ongoing violent conflict in the country, WCS conservationists work with local communities to protect the nation's natural heritage.

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 cats.

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.

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