Are Snow Leopards Endangered? Poaching Has Led to The Species' Decline

Leila Kozma - Author

Apr. 1 2022, Published 12:47 p.m. ET

Snow leopard
Source: Getty Images

More than 40,000 species around the world are currently endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. On the IUCN's website, the organization lists the Jamaican poorwill, the Carabaya stub foot toad, and many others as possibly extinct species.

But are snow leopards endangered, and why? How many snow leopards exist in the wild?

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Are snow leopards endangered? Why?

Snow leopards are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Vulnerable is one step before Endangered, meaning the snow leopard is theoretically not facing as much risk as species classified as Endangered.

According to a 2020 petition by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the number of snow leopards still alive is fast declining because of habitat loss, poaching (for their fur and bones), and "retaliatory" killings, which is when farmers kill wild animals who attack their livestock. All of this takes place across the 12 Central and South Asian countries which serve as their home.

A predator, the snow leopard tends to live in the Alpine areas, above the tree line. There are an estimated 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards left in 2022, per Animals Around The Globe, though estimates vary.

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Snow leopard
Source: Getty Images

The snow leopard was taken off the list of endangered species in 2017.

According to outlets including The BBC and the Verge, the snow leopard was removed from the list of endangered species in 2017, following a three-year evaluation period by five experts. The panel included Dr. Tom McCarthy, the director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Programs.

As Dr. McCarthy told The BBC in 2017, endangered species have to meet specific criteria — which the snow leopard failed to do.

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"To be considered 'endangered,' there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline," Dr. McCarthy said. "Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leopards are 'safe' or that now is a time to celebrate."

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But the decision to remove the snow leopard from the list of endangered species was met with considerable scrutiny from organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust.

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According to a 2017 statement by the Snow Leopard Trust, the number of snow leopards found in the wild is fast decreasing — which, in part, has to do with the changes introduced to their environment, through mining-related activities, climate change, and others.

With the statement, the Snow Leopard Trust pointed to the disadvantages of the decision, highlighting that governments need to be pressured to implement necessary changes to protect the species.

"Snow leopard habitats are increasingly facing mining pressures. Illegal hunting, poaching, and retaliatory killing of snow leopards are on the rise in many areas," Snow Leopard Trust wrote. "We are most concerned about how the lower status may weaken conservation efforts in range countries and the ability of local governments to stop these threats."

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"Governments may have less support from some sectors of their society to create protected areas for snow leopards given the potential revised status," Snow Leopard Trust added. In the past, the trust has had success stopping commercial snow leopard hunting programs, and the snow leopard certainly relies on organizations like the Snow Leopard Trust to continue advocating for the species' protection.

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