Rare snow leopard found in NW China

Updated: 2014-11-05 20:42


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LANZHOU - Evidence of a snow leopard in a nature reserve in Northwest China's Gansu province has been discovered for the first time since 2006, said local authorities on Wednesday.

The animal was spotted in a photo when a researcher named Hellat with the Annanba branch of the forest police bureau of Gansu was sorting pictures. The photo was taken by a ranger named Junsibieke, or Jensbek (pronunciation), on March 4.

The Annanba wild camel national nature reserve was founded in 2006. "This is the first time we have found the snow leopard here," said Hellat. "It is such a pity that we didn't see the photo until today."

According to Junsibieke, who is from the Kazak ethnic group, the leopard was crouching in a pothole as he patrolled the nature reserve.

"I picked up my camera instinctively," he said. "Immediately after I clicked the button, it rose up and scampered away."

Junsibieke recalled that the leopard was an adult about 1.5 meters long. "It had a blood stain on its face," he said. "About 30 meters away from it was remains of a blue sheep, which was still warm."

Snow leopards, one of China's Class A protected animals, are usually found in the Himalayan ranges of central and south Asia at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,500 meters.

The animal has rarely been seen in the wild since last century due to loss of habitat and poaching. An estimated 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards live in the wild, in addition to 600 to 700 more in zoos worldwide.

"In recent years, decreased rainfall, the rise of snowlines and destruction of vegetation on mountains have driven herbivorous animals to river valleys," Hellat said. "That snow leopard must be following them."

Located at the junction of the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the Annanba nature reserve covers 39.6 hectares and has an average altitude of about 2,000 meters. Other rare animals such as the lynx and manul also live in the reserve.