Today, October 23, is International Snow Leopard Day! This is a day set aside to celebrate snow leopards (Panthera uncia), the people who live with them, and the crucial mountain ecosystems they inhabit.
The high mountains of Central Asia are now being called the “Third Pole” as a result of the massive glaciers they contain. These glaciers, in turn, are the source of many of Asia’s largest and most vital rivers. Protecting the snow leopard’s habitat is thus a matter of critical importance.
This has been an eventful year for snow leopards. First of all, genetic analysis revealed that there are likely three different subspecies of “the grey ghost” (as snow leopards are sometimes called). Second, leaders from all twelve snow leopard range countries met in Kyrgyzstan to discuss the fate of this mythic cat. The Snow Leopard Trust and its partners launched a petition to urge these leaders to strengthen their commitments to protect snow leopards, and the global community responded enthusiastically.
Despite this outpouring of support, a controversial decision by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) divided snow leopard conservationists. The cats’ threat status was lowered from Endangered to Vulnerable on the Red List, which is the most widely accepted metric for determining how close species are to extinction.
Some experts contested this move, saying it was based on questionable science and puts snow leopards at risk. As they correctly noted, the threats facing this incredible animal are increasing, and less than 2% of the snow leopard’s range has been reliably surveyed. This means that no one really knows how many snow leopards exist in the wild.
At the end of the day, the disagreement over the snow leopard’s population status comes down to one factor: insufficient data. We simply do not know enough about how the species is faring. Luckily, an innovative scientist is developing a tool to help fix that.
Dr. Natalie Schmitt has designed a DNA Field Kit that will allow researchers to test scat (poo) that they find in the field. If the sample is from a snow leopard, the paper Field Kit will change color. This will dramatically reduce errors in the field, making it easier and more cost effective to study snow leopards. The DNA Field Kit is a revolutionary invention, so please consider making a donation to support Dr. Schmitt and her work.
On this International Snow Leopard Day, why not take a few minutes to learn more about this fascinating creature? I have compiled a list of basic facts about snow leopards, and entering “snow leopard” in the search bar to the right will reveal many more posts about Panthera uncia (the snow leopard’s scientific name). I have also provided links to two recent news stories below, and attached this informative video:
Once you have educated yourself about snow leopards, please share media and information about the species with the hashtag #SnowLeopardDay. It will be a great way to raise awareness!
Today is the perfect day to support snow leopards, the people of Central Asia, and the mountain ecosystems they depend on.
Cats on the Roof of the World – Prerna Singh Bindra and the Hindu Business Line
Turning the Tide: Mongolian Conservationists Create a Future for Snow Leopards – Snow Leopard Trust