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September 25, 2017 | by  | in News |
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A rare sighting of good news: Snow leopards no longer endangered

Snow leopards are no longer considered an endangered species, having been reclassified for the first time in 45 years. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved the species into the less urgent “vulnerable” category after a three year assessment period by five international experts.

IUCN estimate the global snow leopard population to number more than 2,500 but fewer than 10,000, with a projected decline of 10% over three generations. It noted that population figures are partly speculative due to the difficulty of obtaining hard data on the secretive species in their remote habitat of the Himalayas.

Significant conservation measures have been implemented to mitigate threats posed to the wild population. New protected areas have been established in snow leopard range, and local initiatives to control conflict over livestock losses are helping to protect the cats from retaliatory killings.

Tom McCarthy, executive director of wild cat conservation group Panthera, said that the reclassification did not mean that snow leopards are now “safe.” The species is still likely declining — “just not at the rate previously thought.”

Snow leopards remain at threat from poaching for fur and bones, used in traditional medicine, and a loss of prey and habitat from overgrazing and meteorological events. Climate change threatens two-thirds of the snow leopard’s habitat.

Communications Manager for the Snow Leopard Trust, Matthias Fietcher, warned that the term endangered “means something very different to the general public than it does to the IUCN and conservation experts.” He told Salient that although the new listing says the numbers are higher than previously thought, “it does not assume things have really improved” since the previous assessment.

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