Snow leopards are an endangered species of big cats, but as many as 450 of these animals are killed each year.
A new report from wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC revealed that humans continue to kill hundreds of snow leopards every year despite the fact that only between 4,000 and 10,000 of these animals are estimated to live in the wild.
Also known as mountain ghosts, these felines roam the mountains of Central Asia. Most of the attacks are perpetrated in retaliation for the big cats attacking people's livestock.
A survey conducted by TRAFFIC, a collaboration between the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund, found that between 221 and 450 of these large cats are being poached annually since 2008. The figure is based on estimates of experts who work in regions where these elusive animals live. The report, however, notes that the number could be higher since it is difficult to monitor the illegal trade of these cats.
The elusive feline can kill animals three times its weight, so besides threats posed by poaching, the snow leopard also faces threats from local farmers because of its tendency to hunt cattle and sheep.
More than half of these animals are killed by herders who hunt the animals that have preyed on their livestock. One leopard can kill up to 20 goats or sheep in a pen and, since most of the communities that live in the high mountains where the snow leopards live are impoverished and marginalized, the loss of livestock to wild predators such as the snow leopard can have a significant impact on the people's livelihood.
"We think that what most observations, seizure records and expert opinion show is that the majority is still happening because of retaliatory killing," said James Compton from Traffic.
"One of the major interventions to stop that is better protection for livestock, in some of these very remote areas where you have nomad communities and herds of livestock, because that's where the friction takes place."
Only 21 percent of the cats were killed for their body parts such as teeth, claws, bones and pelts to be sold through illegal channels, but a connection sometimes appears in these retaliatory killings and illegal trade. Those who kill the leopards to protect their livestock from another attack or for revenge may also end up selling the leopard's carcass for profit.
"Over 60 percent of snow leopards killed could enter the trade chain," the report reads. "Illegal trade in snow leopards is fed not only by poachers, but by herders acting in retaliation for or to prevent livestock losses."