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Snow Leopards Discovered Flourishing in Afghanistan

Saturday 16 July 2011

The Snow Leopard is known for its elusive nature and wildlife groups have been concerned for decades about their dwindling numbers.  Yet there is some good news – the species is, it seems, flourishing in one remote part of Afghanistan.

The war torn country is home to a vigorous population of snow leopards.  The World Conservation Society recently laid a number of camera traps in the Wakhan Corridor.  This mountainous area is a long panhandle in the north east of the country and the camera traps captured snow leopards on film in sixteen places.

This is a remarkable turn out of events as it has been estimated that there are only around seven thousand snow leopards in the world, scattered across a dozen countries in Central Asia.  Their habitat is usually over 10,000 feet above sea level but even at these heights snow leopards are often killed by shepherds for harrying their flocks.

That isn’t the last of their worries either.  Many of these fuzzy-tailed felines are caught and sold by the illegal pet trade.  Then there is the Chinese problem.  Their bones and penises are in high demand by the bourgeoning middle classes of China.  It is believed that ingestion of their body parts increase sexual performance in humans.

Panthera uncial is considered one of the most endangered of the big cats.  Their numbers have fallen by twenty percent over the last twenty years.  You do not need to be Einstein to calculate that the species does not have long unless something is done.

The goal of the World Conservation Society is to make sure that these wonderful beasts have are protected and have a future in Afghanistan.  A reservation has been proposed by the society so that the snow leopards of the Wakhan Corridor, which has borders on Tajikistan, Pakistan and – oh dear – China, can be legally and forcefully protected.

Although it has always been known that snow leopards inhabit this remote part of Afghanistan there was concern that the population had been severely depleted.  As the wars of the last thirty years have impoverished the population it was thought that their patience with a predatory big cat, however endangered, would precipitate wider hunting. 

This it seems has not been the case. Fortunately the Wakhan Corridor is one of the few places in Afghanistan which has been troubled by insurgency and civil unrest.

Yet there is a lot of work to be done. At the moment the society is doing its best to train rangers and provide education around conservation.  Other help has been to provide locals with corrals which are predator-proof and to start up a compensation scheme to reimburse farmers whose stock is predated by the leopards.

The society has not put an exact number on the amount of snow leopards in the corridor but maintain that their status still remains highly endangered.  After all, a world population which only numbers in the thousands cannot be considered safe if a new enclave of the species is discovered.

It would be a shame if the dramatic peaks of the wild and desolate Wakhan Corridor, this thin strip of land just over two hundred miles in length, turned out to be the last refuge of one of the planet’s animal marvels.

The Ark in Space would like to point out that the pictures used in this article were not taken in Afghanistan.  We don’t want to pull any wool over your eyes! The Afghanistan pictures are copyright the World Conservation Society and cannot be reproduced here.  However, we do hope that you have enjoyed the ones featured!

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