From: Erica Santana, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published January 4, 2013 08:20 AM

An avalanche of decline: snow leopard populations are plummeting

The trading of big cat pelts is nothing new, but recent demand for snow leopard pelts and taxidermy mounts has added a new commodity to the illegal trade in wildlife products, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Traditionally, the market for large cat products has centered around tiger bones and parts for traditional Chinese medicine. Snow leopards (Uncia uncia), however, are a novel trend in the illegal wildlife trade arena and skins and taxidermy mounts are the most recent fad in luxury home décor.

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The EIA, a UK-based non-profit organization whose mission is to investigate crimes to the environment, are concerned that attention to the plight of snow leopards is compromised because of the global conservation focus on tigers. While tiger poaching is a rampant threat, the EIA estimates that for every tiger poached, approximately six snow leopards are taken.

Experts have estimated that there are between 4,000 and 6,000 snow leopards left in the wild, making them one of Asia's most endangered mammals. This estimate was calculated several years ago, however, and it is believed that the number today is significantly lower.

Results of EIA investigations reveal that the majority of snow leopard pelts are being harvested in China, Mongolia, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Beginning in 2005, open trade in large cat products has declined and most of the illegal transactions in large cat trading is done in secret, making it difficult to monitor. Investigators from the EIA have documented hundreds of sales in illegal cat parts, but this detection success may be marginal compared to the actual trade.

"The skins uncovered by our investigators are just the tip of the iceberg," says Debbie Banks, the head of EIA's Tiger Campaign.

Article continues at ENN affiliate, Mongabay

Snow Leopard image via Shutterstock

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