All about plant and animals

Selasa, 23 Juni 2009

Rare Snow Cats Caught by Camera Traps

LEOPARD PICTURES: Rare Snow Cats Caught by Camera Traps

June 11, 2009--Tail raised, a snow leopard, likely marking its territory, is caught in the act by a camera trap on April 14, 2009, in eastern Afghanistan's mountainous Wakhan Corridor.

Four of five traps placed throughout the rugged region--a narrow strip that straddles Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south--photographed different snow leopards on several occasions. (See a map of the region.)

The relatively large number of sightings are promising for the animal, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Once found throughout the high altitudes of Central Asia, the cats are thought to number only about a hundred in Afghanistan, conservationists say.

"What the pictures really suggest is that there's still real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan," said Peter Zahler, the assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program.

(Read about snow leopards in National Geographic magazine.)

Poaching of both the big cats and of their main prey species, Marco Polo sheep and ibex, has led to the decline of the snow leopard, Zahler said. Without prey, the leopards sometimes attack livestock, and shepherds may in turn shoot the leopards--a "vicious circle," Zahler said.

"They are really the iconic species of the great mountains of Asia. To lose them would be to lose their presence that defines these mountains," Zahler added.

LEOPARD PICTURES: Rare Snow Cats Caught by Camera Traps

To access the remote and inhospitable habitat of the snow leopard (pictured above in a camera-trap picture on May 26, 2009), conservationists and local wildlife rangers had to travel by horseback--or "yakback"--for a week through snow and ice.

Because the Wakhan Corridor sits above snow line--at altitudes of over 14,000 feet (4,267 meters)--this "strange pencil of land" is out of range of ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Zahler said.

Some locals have become advocates for wildlife, Zahler said, setting aside areas for animals and developing laws limiting where livestock can be grazed.

With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Wildlife Conservation Society is trying to establish the Wakhan Corridor as a protected area.

LEOPARD PICTURES: Rare Snow Cats Caught by Camera Traps

Though about a hundred snow leopards (such as this one, pictured on May 5, 2009) are thought to live in Afghanistan, that estimate was based on guesswork and leopard pelts in markets, Zahler said.

(See more snow leopard pictures taken by camera traps.)

"We had no idea how they were doing, because they're such elusive and secretive animals to begin with," he said.

But the new camera-trap findings mean there's a "real chance for snow leopard recovery" in the Central Asian country, he added.

—Photograph courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

0 komentar: