The ghost of Central Asia

The ghost of Central Asia

I have a fur which makes me impossible to be seen in the snow. I have a tail which is almost the same length as my body. I can leap six times the length of my body and there are less than 6500 of me in the wild. What am I?

I am a snow leopard, and my fur is about to be skinned right about…now.

Regardless of the myriad differences such as culture, history and even food, China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and the other six countries in Central Asia region share one thing in common, the snow leopard. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), snow leopard only exists within this region and they are very hard to come by which is why it is also known as the ghost of the mountain.

As the name suggests, the snow leopard lives in snowy mountain region and at times within grassland area. Although the environment in the mountain could be very extreme due to harsh climate as well as rocky terrain, the snow leopard is built for such place.

The snow leopard is known to live solitarily and only pair during breeding season. The cub will remain with its mother only until the first winter in order to learn survival skills before pursuing its own path.

Although there have been many discussions on the snow leopard, there is a reason why it was once known to be a mythical creature. Since the snow leopard is very much evasive from human eyes, conservationists have lack of information about it especially visual image of this iconic beast.

Nisar Malik, a journalist who has spent almost 20 years working in Pakistan learned about the mountain region as well as the snow leopard from the locals felt the need to report about it. Starting from the obtained information, Nisar assisted BBC Planet Earth for the search of the snow leopard.

Nisar claimed that it was “Love at first sight”.

The unique features of the snow leopard have caught many conservationists and non-conservationist alike.

Its thick smokey-grey fur, along with dark grey rosettes and spots are made to resist extreme mountain weather and camouflage while hunting for its prey. Its forelegs are shorter than the hind legs as they allow the snow leopard to leap as far as 50 feet upon it prey. Its extremely long tail is used for balancing and is wrapped around its body to warm itself while resting during cold weather. Its huge paws are similar to a pair of snowshoes that enable the snow leopard to walk or sprint on the snow without sinking.

To see an untouched snow leopard in the wild could be a priceless experience to some, but to catch a sight of the iconic beast in a commercial location reduced into a pelt with a price tag attached to it, is something else.

According to the IUCN Red list and the Endangered Species act, the snow leopard is considered as an endangered species due to the decline of its population. In a report by WWF, there are different types of threats at different locations that have been imposed on the snow leopard which make it hard to identify its main causes.

In the Himalayan region and in the Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains, the killings of snow leopard is mostly due to retaliation among farmers who want to protect their livestock from the snow leopard. This is usually due to the farmer’s effort in expanding their farm where they might have crossed into the snow leopard’s territory. Due to the snow leopard’s territorial nature, this creates a negative implication among farmers which leads to an unfortunate fate to the snow leopard.

The illegal animal trade among poachers is rampant in the Chinese Altai Mountains and Tien Shan mountains, Mongolia and the Russian Federation. The bones and skeleton of a snow leopard could go up to $10 000 US dollars which are used for Asian medicines.

Climate change is also another threat to the snow leopard.

Climate change affects snow leopard by forcing it to move to higher grounds as the snow lines recede due to rising temperature. The consequence of moving to higher grounds for the snow leopard is the lack of herbivores that it preys on due to the minimal vegetation growth in such altitude, affecting its needs to survive.

The existence of the snow leopard is not only an indication of its inhabitant in the wild, but also a mark of a healthy environment that they exist in. Losing the snow leopard species creates a dominos effect, as it would lead to an imbalance of an ecosystem due to the overgrown population of the herbivores resulting depredation of natural resources such as leaves and roots that they feed on.  To lose the snow leopard represents our appreciation towards nature.  

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