Rare cats verified in northwest

Updated: 2016-05-26 07:47

By Su Zhou(China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Rare cats verified in northwest

This snow leopard was sighted by researchers, confirming that the endangered species lives in areas south and north of Qinghai Lake in Qinghai province.[HUI YING/CHINA DAILY]

Experts seek national snow leopard survey to confirm true population

Researchers have confirmed that snow leopards live in areas south and north of Qinghai Lake in Northwest China's Qinghai province.

The animals' presence had been rumored but was never proved, as experts have tried to understand the distribution range and habitat selection patterns of the rare big cat.

The new finding was released by the Wildlife Conservation Society of China, which did not reveal specific locations in a bid to protect the snow leopards. It referred to the two locations only as areas A and B.

Liang Xuchang, the project officer with the Changtang Program of WCS China, said researchers sighted snow leopards in Area A and found evidence of them - hours-old footprints-in Area B.

"We cannot say this is the first time it has been claimed that snow leopards live in those areas," said Liang. "In the past, there were reports from herdsmen and other witnesses, but those were unconfirmed. There were no scientific reports supporting the claims."

Liang said the new findings will offer basic information for people studying snow leopards and attempting to protect them.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the snow leopard, known as the "ghost of the mountains", on its Red List of Threatened Species as globally endangered.

George Schaller, a senior conservationist with the WCS, said China still boasts the largest population of the animal by far.

"About 60 percent of the global population of snow leopards live within China,"

Schaller said. "But we are still not sure how many there actually are because of the difficulty of carrying out a census."

Conservationists have called for a national survey to be conducted on snow leopards to provide a basis for their research.

Gao Yufang, executive director of the Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center in the Tibet autonomous region, estimates there are between 2,000 and 2,500 snow leopards in China.

"In China, generally the most urgent threat the snow leopards face is the loss, degradation and fragmentation of suitable habitat," said Gao. "This is often due to large-scale development and infrastructure projects and to mineral exploration in or around important snow leopard habitats."

Another threat is increasing conflicts between humans and wildlife, Gao said.

"Financial loss incurred by predation on livestock is one - particularly in regions with weak economies and where livestock provides the dominant livelihood. The perceived and actual threats of livestock depredation can cause intolerance toward large carnivores, sometimes resulting in persecution."

Snow leopard facts

330 million Number of people who depend every day on water flowing from snow leopard habitat

14% Approximate portion of snow leopard habitat globally that is subject to some form of conservation program or research

20% Estimated snow leopard population decline over the past 16 years

1/3 of current snow leopard territory might be lost if climate change continues unchecked.