Satellite to Track Elusive Pakistani Snow Leopards
ISLAMABAD Conservationists in Pakistan have for the first time attached a satellite tracking collar to a snow leopard with the aim of gathering crucial information for efforts to save the endangered big cats.
Snow leopards live high in the mountains of central Asia, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, India and Nepal.
Remote though their habitat is, snow leopards are in growing competition with humans for food. They are also in grave danger from poachers who kill them for their bones, which are used in Chinese medicine, and for their thick pelts.
A female snow leopard was captured and collared in the Chitral Gor National Park in Pakistan's northern mountains on Nov. 17, said Amjad Aslam of the WWF-Pakistan conservation group.
"It is the first time that a satellite tracking device has been put on them and they are being tracked through the global positioning system," Aslam said on Tuesday.
"We'll be getting information almost on-line."
The study is being carried out by WWF-Pakistan, the Snow Leopard Trust conservation group and the wildlife department of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.
There are between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards left in the world, between 200 and 420 of them in Pakistan, according to the Snow Leopard Trust.
"There's an urgent need to conserve them," Aslam said.
The conservationists hope to catch and collar five of the leopards for the Pakistani study. A second was recently caught in a special humane snare but it managed to escape, Aslam said.
"Snow leopards are nocturnal, they live at an altitude which is not very healthy for human beings and they are also very elusive so we really don't know a lot about them," he said.
"By looking at this tracking data we'll know their home range -- what is the minimum area a snow leopard requires to live and thrive."
As well as being hunted for their bones and pelts, the leopards are killed by villagers protecting their flocks.
As people move into the mountains they hunt the wild sheep and goats the snow leopards prey on.
"Once their prey has been reduced the snow leopard tends to attack livestock, so retaliatory killings are quite common," Aslam said.
The WWF has started an insurance scheme under which farmers who lose animals to snow leopards can get compensation, aiming to dissuade villagers from hunting them down.