Sad end

March 8, 2010

Captured snow leopard in Afghanistan. Photo by Richard Fite. Story USA Today.

As humans we’re always looking for the positive in a story. We have to look pretty deep to get a positive from this horrible story from Afghanistan this week. Some conservationists are saying it shows that local Afghans are more protective of snow leopards now – lets hope so. But the sad death of this animal was pretty shocking.

At the end of February a German civilian heard about a possible snow leopard for sale for $50,000. Richard Fite, a senior agricultural advisor with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, currently stationed in Afghanistan, said he became involved when an official in the Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency (ANEPA) did the right thing and contacted police.

When Fite saw the snow leopard it was in terrible condition

It “had been snared, had all four legs bound together, and was transported by truck for at least 2-3 days over a terrible road in cold damp weather, poked and prodded by many, held in captivity for a week.”

“For a normally solitary, wild animal, the mental stress would have been just unimaginable.  When I first saw the animal, on its fourth or fifth day of captivity, it was already in trouble — quite passive and subdued.  During the next two days, it became progressively more so.”

Fite worked with international and local officials to provide aid in the form of heavy mittens, an improvised rabies pole, an electric heater and medical supplies for the animal’s treatment. The Aria Guest House in Feyzabad, provided a secluded location for the cat.  It also provided food, staff, and a small propane heater. USAID organised a helicopter to transport the leopard back to the Wakhan corridor once it was healthy.

Sadly, despite everyone’s great efforts, the snow leopard died.

“It seemed to respond to subcutaneous fluids given the afternoon of the second day, but died early the following morning.” Full story here.

In a letter to the Snow Leopard Network members Fite said,  ” the final outcome of course is not what we all wished but on the positive side, I note that this incident generated a great amount of publicity for snow leopards in Afghanistan and that interest in this animal reached all the way to the highest levels of the Afghan government and the U.S. Embassy.  Perhaps that, at least, is a good sign for the future.”

Thankyou to ALL those people who desperately tried to save this animal.


Herdsmen in China sentenced to prison for killing snow leopard

March 8, 2010

BBC News has reported the following story. “Two herdsmen have been sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison for killing a snow leopard in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted local authorities saying the men had set a trap after wild animals had been preying on their sheep. When a snow leopard was trapped, they stoned it to death and gave its fur, bones and internal organs to others.
The wildlife protection office of Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture confirmed that the animal they killed was a snow leopard, said Yang Jianwei, a publicity official of Manas County Committee of the Communist Party of China, where the men were convicted.
Xinhua reported that five suspects who had allegedly killed two snow leopards were arrested in January this year by the Public Security Bureau of Luntai County, Xinjiang. Four people were sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing and selling four snow leopards on 19 November 2008.”

It’s good to see China enforcing its laws on the illegal killing of snow leopards but it would be so much better if education helped people understand they shouldn’t kill them in the first place. Sadly a no-win for the herdsmen and a no-win for the snow leopards.


what to do if you see illegal snow leopard fur etc for sale

December 4, 2009

The Snow Leopard Trust blog has just posted some really good information on what people can do if they see anyone trying to sell snow leopard furs etc. It may happen that you see this in your travels or even in your travels around the internet. It can be confusing but check these really useful guidelines from the SLT here.


China still trading illegal snow leopard skins

October 28, 2009

EIA logoThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently conducted undercover investigations into the illegal big cat skin and bone trade in China and found it easy to get tiger, snow leopard and other leopard skins.

‘China has really run out of excuses. They tell us they are doing their best, but we have been warning them about this for years and there are still huge gaps in their enforcement effort. If they can put a man into space, they can do more to save the wild tiger’, said Debbie Banks, Lead Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The EIA team did three weeks of undecover work during July and August this year and captured the illegal trade on film using a hidden camera while they enquired about animal skins on sale. During this time they were offered 11 snow leopard skins as well as many other cat parts. In a sad video the sellers show skins from Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We can get you anything you want,” they say.

While buying and selling any big cat parts is definitely illegal in China it seems a lot of this activity is actually not too difficult to find in many parts of China including Tibet. Researchers found local officials in the vicinity of the shops trading the illegal goods and people at a horse festival in Tibet openly wearing skins in view of local authorities.

The EIA believes that the skins are less in demand from Tibetans themselves these days – perhaps the plea from the Dalai Lama in 2006 for Tibetans to stop wearing skins of endangered animals has worked. But demand from middle class and wealthy Chinese business people, army personell and government officials has not dropped. The skins are bought for home décor or clothing in Tibet and China, costing huge amounts of money that more people can now afford. A snow leopard skins costs around $US2200.

According to the EIA the illegal trade is organised by extensive criminal networks. ‘There is some law enforcement in China, in a few regions, but there are whole swathes of the country where this trade is allowed to carry on with almost no fear of detection. A mixture of corruption and apathy is helping to decimate endangered species and is indicative of what is happening to the wider environment,’ said Alasdair Cameron of EIA.

The EIA has provided the Chinese government with this sort of evidence for over 5 years but there appears so much localised corruption that little has changed.

The Environmental Investigation Agency is a UK-based Non Government Organisation that investigates and campaigns against environmental crime including illegal wildlife trade.

See BBC story and video here.

India Today imageSee interview with Debbie Banks from India Today TV.


Illegal hunting and killing of snow leopards

July 7, 2009
Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

I’m reading one of the most comprehensive and powerful reports on the trade of wild snow leopards called “Fading Footprints – the killing and trade of snow leopards.”

It’s a huge piece of research, published in 2003 by TRAFFIC it makes quite depressing reading. At the time the research was conducted, despite legislation protecting snow leopards in most of their range countries, they are still being hunted and killed for furs and body parts for traditional medicines. When furs can be sold for $US300-$US800 its easy to see the incentive. Retribution killing by farmers protecting livestock is also still common especially in areas where they’ve had not education about how to protect their livestock.

Recognising that all the range countries have different challenges the report outlines many recommendations for how things could be improved, like strengthening enforcement of the laws. This makes sense. Having laws isn’t enough if they can’t be enforced then snow leopards hunting will continue. The antipoaching team, the Gruppa Bars in Kyrgyztan (see my recent blog post) is one example of this.

 Other recommendations include helping the local communities that share snow leopard habitat which is one of the most important things that both the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy are doing. Its been found that when local communities understand how rare and endangered the snow leopards are they are willing to work to protect it if they aren’t financially disadvantaged.

The report is almost 6 years old. Much has been done by many dedicated agencies and people throughout the range countries. But there’s no doubt that the cats are still under huge threats.


Kyrgyz anti-poaching unit gets tough

May 23, 2009
NABU Gruppa Bars antipoaching unit

NABU Gruppa Bars anti poaching unit. Photo by NABU.

The “Gruppa Bars”, an anti-poaching unit was set up to save snow leopards in the Kyrgyz Republic 10 years ago with the help of funding from the German conservation agency NABU.

Gruppa Bars means ‘snow leopard’ in Kyrgyz. The team has far-reaching powers and is equipped with weapons. They have the power to arrest suspects and seize live animals, skins, weapons and other evidence.

In the last decade the Gruppa Bars have captured 180 poachers and confiscated many snow leopard pelts as well as furs from other endangered animals. They’ve also confiscated and destroyed hundreds of traps. There’s no doubt this team has made a huge difference in saving snow leopards in the country.

Since the late 90’s living standards fell sharply after the dissolution of the Soviet states and the demand for snow leopard parts (for traditional medicine in China) and fur meant the cats in Kyrgyzstan have been hunted relentlessly.

Female Alcu injured by a trap. Now lives in a reserve. Photo by NABU.

Female Alcu injured by a trap. Now lives in a reserve. Photo by NABU.

A few years ago three live cats were saved after they’d been captured in brutal traps. All had parts of their paws removed because of the traps and can’t hunt successfully or feed themselves. But they’re now living protected in a large enclosure in a NABU supported wildlife reserve.


Illegal wildlife trade in Asia worth $10 billion

May 6, 2009

Illegal trade in wildlife in Asia is estimated at over $10 billion dollars, second only to weapons and drug smuggling. This is a staggering and potentially depressing story.
But ASEAN nations have recently made major commitments at an ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN) meeting to improve enforcement and also halt habitat depletion. A sad case is that tiger numbers in Asia have gone from over 100,000 to just 4,000 in the last 90 years.

ASEAN WEN member map

ASEAN WEN member map

WEN was formed in 2005 and is the world’s largest wildlife law enforcement network that involves police, customs and environment agencies of all 10 ASEAN countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.

For a full report on what the WEN meeting agreed to and the work of WEN see here.