The Wildlife Conservation Society has discovered a healthy population of the felines in a mountainous, northeastern area of war-torn Afghanistan. Between 4,500 and 7,500 snow leopards remain in the wild scattered across 12 countries in Central Asia, according to a recent study in the Journal of Environmental Studies.
“It shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan,” Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director for Asia Programs, said in a press release. “Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage.”
Among the threats the snow leopard faces in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are poaching for their pelts, attacks by shepherds and their live capture by those hoping to sell the animals in the illegal pet trade. In a program supported by the WCS, a team of 59 trained rangers are monitoring the region to protect the snow leopards and outreach intiatives are teaching local communities about the importance of protecting the animal.
Snow leopard populations have dropped more than 20 percent over the past 16 years and are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.