Alarm bells are ringing about the rapid decline of snow leopards in the high mountain ranges of many Asian countries.

According to a new report, nearly 90 percent of the poaching is happening in countries such as China, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.

The report from wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said only 4,000 snow leopards are left now. It also voiced concerns over the illegal trade in snow leopard skins going online, evading the eyes of law enforcing agencies. In addition to skins, the teeth, claws and bones of snow leopards are in high demand.

Found in 12 countries around the Himalayan plateaus at altitudes between 1,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level, the leopards survive in the cold because of hairy coats and furry feet.

Yet another study published in the journal Biological Conservation cautioned that two-thirds of the snow leopards' alpine habitat will become extinct by 2070 because of global warming.

According to the new study, poaching has intensified since 2008 with an average 450 snow leopards getting killed annually.

Noting that half of the leopards are killed by herders as revenge for preying on their livestock, the report said, only 21 percent of snow leopards are targeted for claws, pelts, teeth, and bones, which are then sold through illegal channels.

"We think that what most observations, seizure records, and expert opinion shows are that the majority is still happening because of retaliatory killing," said James Compton from TRAFFIC.

One report also talked about snow leopards hunting linked to their use in traditional Chinese medicines.

Successful Conservation Efforts Kyrgyzstan

There is, however, hope. Conservation efforts of the Kyrgyzstan government are a case in point. They have saved several snow leopards from destruction by turning the hunting ground, Shamshy, near capital Bishkek, into a sanctuary. It is going to be co-managed by the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Foundation. Such a transformation of hunting ground into wildlife refuge has been rare.

According to Kuban Jumabai Uulu, director of the Snow Leopard Foundation, the conservation efforts in Shamshy are showing good results with a clear spurt in the numbers of snow leopards.

Conservation apart, the need for local communities to protect the depleting animal stock has been underscored in the TRAFFIC report.

With the need for killing to stop, Rishi Sharma, co-author of the report, said there is the requirement to work together in reducing the conflict between farmers and wildlife so that mountain communities can co-exist with snow leopards.

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