Good news! The elusive yet elegant snow leopard, which lives in the mountains of central Asia, is no longer considered to be “endangered.” After assessing data on the big cat species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded the snow leopard to “vulnerable.”
To be classified as “vulnerable,” a species must have under 10,000 breeding animals left, with a population decline of at least 10 percent over three generations. There is believed to be at least 4,000 adult snow leopards in the Himalayas, therefore, the big cat qualifies.
While the status change is good news, wildlife experts are warning that the iconic symbol of Asia’s great mountain wilderness still faces numerous threats. Their numbers are declining due to poachers, hunters who pursue them for their pelts and for killing livestock, and climate change — which is driving the leopards further up the mountains.
The snow leopard was downgraded to “vulnerable” after a three-year assessment was conducted by five international experts. Dr. Tom McCarthy, who runs the Snow Leopard Programma for Panthera, told BBC News: “To be considered ‘endangered,’ there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline. Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leopards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate.”
He added, “The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’, and is likely still declining – just not at the rate previously though.”
The snow leopard was listed by the IUCN as “endangered” after being assessed by biologists in the 1970’s, reports IFLScience. Because the cat lives in one of the most remote regions in the world, wildlife experts have had difficulty accurately assessing its numbers every five years. Some scientists say the animal is struggling to survive, whereas other groups say the species is thriving.
The Snow Leopard Trust, which aims to protect the big cat, strongly opposes the status change. In fact, it plans to challenge the decision with the IUCN. “We believe it could have serious consequences for the species,” the team wrote in a blog post.
Regardless if the big cat is “endangered” or “vulnerable,” it matters not. The fact remains that the snow leopard — and other at-risk animal species — need protecting from the effects of mankind’s unsustainable habits. If not, future generations may never come face-to-face with the African elephant, the giraffe, or the majestic-looking snow leopard.