Researchers say they have discovered a population of endangered snow leopards in the remote mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, a promising development for
a species whose numbers have plummeted in recent decades. Using camera traps operated by local rangers, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) documented the big cats at 16 locations in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies. Researchers have calculated that populations of the snow leopard — which live in some of the world’s highest mountains and are found in a dozen countries across central Asia — have dropped by about 20 percent over the last 16 years, with an estimated 4,500 to 7,500 cats surviving in the wild. And while the snow leopard seems to be thriving in the Wakhan Corridor, WCS conservationists say the cat remains vulnerable to numerous regional threats, including poaching for their pelts, retaliatory killings by shepherds, and capture for the illegal pet trade. The New York-based wildlife group has developed a series of initiatives to protect the snow leopard, including training of rangers and proposed “predator-proof” livestock corrals to prevent conflicts with shepherds.