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Snow Leopard Facts: Reasons for being Endangered
With the recent release of OS X version 10.6, I found myself curious about the snow leopard and why Apple’s team to chose pay it tribute. Sure it is a gorgeous animal, but beyond that it is human nature to appreciate something more when it is almost gone.
The problem is not new as the snow leopard population hit all time lows in the 1960s. Still, the time seems right to turn the spotlight on an animal that does not seek our attention. By nature its very means of survival depends on hiding among the winter landscape; and since a big portion of the people seeking the snow leopard want it dead, it makes for a sad tale.
Snow leopard basics
With body lengths ranging between 75 and 130 centimeters, snow leopards are among the smallest species classified as big cats. Amazingly these elusive beasts have tails nearly as long as their body. Snow leopards make advantageous use of the heavy tail by using it to balance as they run and jump among sharp rocks and dangerous cliffs in the mountain ranges of Central Asia.
Well-known for its beautiful fur, the snow leopard has numerous dark grey rosettes on the flanks and spots on the head and neck, similar to jaguars. The base color is somewhere in-between light grey and muted tan, depending on the particular cat, with an underbelly that fades into a pristine white.
This opportunistic hunter lives a mostly solitary life, much like most other big cats. But unlike its close cousins, the snow leopard is unable to roar due to an absence of a larynx in the throat.
There are three principal reasons why the snow leopard is an endangered species:
- Illegal fur trade and use of body parts for Chinese medicine
- Diminishing prey due to human hunting
- Attacks from native farmers that see snow leopards as a pest
Killed for a coat
It is this thick, warm and exotic coat that is a contributing factor to the plight of the snow leopard. In the rugged, mountainous regions it calls home, survival of the fittest knows no bounds between human and beast. The native people of the surrounding counties live in an impoverished state, many making less than $300 per year. Since a poacher can earn $200 for a dead snow leopard, it is easy to see why the problem has become so severe that the species is at risk of extinction.
Poachers spend their days and nights traveling along the mountains and ridges tracing the snow leopard’s path and placing traps hoping to catch a big score. In Mongolia, as many as 50 snow leopards are hunted and killed in natural reserves every year. This is now a target area for criminals since it seems that populations in India, Nepal, Pakistan and China have been exterminated.
Pelts are sold via the black markets in China, Taiwan, and Mongolia. The middlemen in the operations then export and resell the furs from $1,000 to as much as $10,000. The rich living in Russia's Altay like to hang irbis skins in their homes for decoration. Other times the pelts are used to make extravagant fur coats.
Loss of prey
As a predator, the snow leopard most commonly hunts ibex goats and blue sheep, preferring adult males. Other targets include gazelles, pikas, hares, game birds, as well as domestic livestock. The problem lies in the fact that the same animals are popular game for human hunters.
Conflicts with farmers
The majority of local villagers have a negative opinion of snow leopards because they contribute to loss of livestock. It is said that the snow leopard is rather indifferent towards people, which makes shooting one with a gun or even stoning it easier. The farmers and herders that retaliate and kill snow leopards are often completely ignorant to the fact the animal is protected by law. In a 1994 poll of four Nepalese villages, 52% said that extermination was the only way to protect their livestock from attack.
Help the snow leopard
Since 1981, the Snow Leopard Trust has been the world’s leader in contributing to awareness and fighting to protect the snow leopard. Projects in India and Mongolia involve teaming up with the local people, documenting the animal’s habits as well as other research, and of course setting up reserves to protect wildlife. People who want to make a difference in snow leopard conservation don’t necessarily have to reach in their pocket books. The organization lists several creative ways people have helped: writing for their blog, creating art and holding an event are just a few.
The Snow Leopard Trust is registered as an eBay Giving Works charity, so by looking for eBay sellers that support this cause, you can contribute whenever you win an auction.