Villagers in Badakhshan, Afghanistan trapped snow leopard for sale but will be released once cat has recovered

Afghanistan protects newly rediscovered rare bird
By KAY JOHNSON (AP) – 1 day ago
KABUL — Afghanistan’s fledging conservation agency moved Sunday to protect one of the world’s rarest birds after the species was rediscovered in the war-ravaged country’s northeast.
The remote Pamir Mountains are the only known breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler, a species so elusive that it had been documented only twice before in more than a century.
A researcher with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon the tiny, olive-brown bird during a wildlife survey in 2008 and taped its distinctive song. Later, a research team caught and released 20 of the birds — the largest number ever recorded.
On Sunday, Afghanistan‘s National Environment Protection Agency added the large-billed reed warbler to its list of protected species, which was established only last year.
Mustafa Zahir, the agency’s director-general, acknowledged the difficulties of trying to protect wildlife in a country preoccupied with the Taliban insurgency. On Friday, suicide attackers killed 16 people in Kabul, the capital, and thousands of Afghan and NATO forces are fighting to root out the hard-line Islamists from their southern stronghold.
But Zahir, who is the grandson of Afghanistan‘s former king, said the discovery of the large-billed reed warbler provided some welcome positive news.“It is not true that our country is full of only bad stories,” Zahir said. “This bird, after so many years, has been discovered here. Everyone thought it was extinct.”
The bird’s discovery in Afghanistan kicked off a small flurry in conservation circles.
The large-billed reed warbler was first documented in India in 1867 but wasn’t found again until 2006 — with a single bird in Thailand. The Pamir Mountains, in the sparsely populated Badakhshan province near China, is now home to the world’s only known large population of the bird.The Afghan environmental agency also added 14 other species to the protected list on Sunday. It now includes 48 species including the rare snow leopard, the Asiatic cheetah and the markhor, a type of wild goat with large spiral horns.
While conservation efforts are in their infancy in Afghanistan, there have been some recent successes. Authorities in Badakhshan last week seized a snow leopard from villagers who had trapped it and planned to sell it. The snow leopard — one of an estimated 150 left in the wild — will be freed once its injuries from the trap are healed, Zahir said.Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Villagers in Badakhshan, Afghanistan trapped snow leopard for sale but will be released once cat has recovered”

  1. Dear SLN members,

    I must share some unfortunate news with you from Afghanistan. Despite the efforts of several US and Afghan officials on the ground, and the advice and support from many SLN members, conservationists and agency staff in the US, the snow leopard being held in captivity died before it could be returned to the wild. The letter below from Dr. Richard Fite, the veterinarian who did all he could to save the cat, gives us a clearer picture of what happened over the past several days. He ends his letter on a slightly positive note by remarking on the broad support and interest the plight of this one cat elicited. As professionals we must not let that hightened awarness go to waste, but use this tragic event to highlight the threats to snow leopards across the range.


    Tom McCarthy

    Director of Snow Leopard Programs



    To all who helped and cared about the snow leopard:

    I am sorry to report that the leopard died early Tuesday morning.

    The leopard first came to my attention early Saturday night, Feb. 27. I was told it had been captured by villagers in the Wakhan corridor in northeastern Afghanistan, had been in captivity for four days, transferred by truck (2-3 day journey on very bad road), was now in Feysabad at the police station where it was reportedly being mildly abused by poking and prodding, was being offered for sale on the internet for $2 million, and I saw a picture of it with all four feet tied together. I said that it needed to be untied immediately, and a few of us from the Provincial Reconstruction Team went into town to observe the animal. By that time, it had been transferred to a more secluded atrium on the rooftop of the Aria guest house and it had been untied, except for a harness. It was alert and growled when we entered the room.

    The next day, Sunday, I observed the animal again. Its condition was essentially unchanged. I was told it had been eating, drinking and standing, although I did not see that, and am not convinced that was correct. There was a considerable quantity of raw meat in the cage. I saw the leopard move from sternal recumbency to a crouching position when I entered the room. It remained alert, held its head up but its behavior was otherwise subdued. The animal was in a solid floor cage and had soiled itself with urine and feces. The room was chilly and damp after two days of steady rain. I had a small electric heater placed in the room that evening.

    The next day, Monday, I observed the animal again around noontime. It was significantly more depressed. It was conscious but did not raise its head or growl when I entered the room, as it had done on previous observations. I found the electric heater had been disconnected. I contacted Mostapha Zaher, the head of the Afghanistan Environmental Protection Agency, and discussed options and advised that the prognosis for survival was very poor. We decided to to try to treat the leopard.

    That afternoon, I gave the leopard 1500 cc of fluids subcutaneously. The soiled hindquarter and tail were washed with warm water, the cage cleaned and a dry 4″ thick foam mattress was put in the cage. I observed that the right hind leg had a 1 1/2 inch full thickness laceration which I assume was from being caught in a snare. I did not use sedation because the leopard did not struggle excessively, and because, in any event, I did not have good and readily available options for sedation. The guest house provided a small portable propane heater. It was set on low with instructions to turn off after the leopard’s coat was dry. The leopard seemed to respond quickly–more so than I expected– to the subQ fluids. When I left in late afternoon, the leopard was holding its head up, grooming itself, and generally seemed brighter and more alert. I advised Afghan authorities that it should be moved and released ASAP.

    Also by late Monday, the weather had cleared and USAID had arranged for helicopter transport of the animal back to the Wakhan corridor. Transport was planned for Wednesday.

    I returned Monday evening 10:30 pm to check on the animal, and particularly on the heater. The leopard was resting comfortably, stretched out, and its fur coat had dried. Room temperature was comfortably cool, not cold, not hot; the heater still set on low.

    At 7 am Tuesday morning, I was informed the leopard had died. There are no plans for a necropsy. Afghan authorities plan to incinerate the carcass with assistance as necessary from the USG.

    I greatly appreciate the tremendous amount of help I received from so many people and I want to thank you all for your advice on how to manage and treat the leopard. 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.


    Richard W. Fite, DVM

    Senior Agricultural Advisor – RC North

    Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan

    (93) 0706 162 583

  2. Mar 05, 2010, 11:03 AM – USA TODAY
    Hope despite death of a snow leopard in Afghanistan

    A snow leopard taken captive in Afghanistan. Local and international groups worked tirelessly to nurse it back to health but it died on March 2, 2010.
    By Richard Fite, USDA
    Despite the death of a rare snow leopard this week in Afghanistan — one of only as few as 50 to 200 still believed to live in the wild there — the response by local Afghans to its capture gives conservationists working to protect the species hope.
    The saga began in Feyzabad Province in Afghanistan, where a German civilian representative on the Provincial Reconstruction Team heard about a possible snow leopard for sale.
    Snow leopards are extremely rare and by international convention, capturing killing or selling them is illegal.
    It appears that someone in Pakistan contracted with an Afghan villager or villagers in the Wakhan corridor to buy a live, adult snow leopard for $50,000, says Richard Fite, a senior agricultural advisor with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture who is currently stationed in Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan.
    The animal was captured early Saturday night, Feb. 27
    Fite heard the story fourth or fifth hand, so the details are a little unclear. But at some point, the Afghan villager or villagers contacted an official in the Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency, apparently hoping to obtain a higher price.
    This is part of the good news. In a war-torn and poor part of the world, the officials at the ANEPA did exactly the right thing and contacted police, Fite said via email from Afghanistan.
    The snow leopard was in bad shape when Fite was finally able to see it.
    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.”
    That’s about the worst possible thing that could happen to one of these cats, Fite says. “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, who’s in Afghanistan as part of the U.S. “civilian surge” to help built up agriculture there, launched into action to do what he could to help the animal. A group of international and local officials came together to provide aid.
    A USAID officer, Casey Welch, who is permanently stationed at the Feyzabad PRT, “was resourceful in locating equipment and supplies such as heavy mittens, an improvised rabies pole, and an electric heater,” Fite says.
    The German military hospital provided medical supplies for the leopard’s treatment, including the Lactated Ringers Solution that Fite administered.
    After consulting with Afghan officials, a decision was made to attempt to treat the leopard by ANEPA Director General Mostapha Zaher, the grandson of the last Afghanistan monarch. And the local hotel, the Aria Guest House in Feyzabad, provided “a secluded and secure location for keeping the leopard. It also provided food, staff, and a small propane heater.”
    USAID even worked out how a helicopter could be borrowed to transport the leopard back to the Wakhan corridor once it was healthy.
    Unfortunately, despite the ad hoc team’s best efforts, they couldn’t save the big cat.
    “It seemed to respond to subcutaneous fluids given the afternoon of the second day, but died early the following morning,” on Tues., March 2.
    But despite the sad outcome, the overall story is positive because of the interest and support the local Afghans in the area showed for the leopard – an example of changing attitudes towards the animals across its range.
    Tom McCarthy, director of the non-profit conservation group Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, was called in Seattle to consult on the animal’s health. His group is working to protect the 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards believed to still live in the wild in the mountains of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
    The danger for these animals is that they tend to live in areas where people make their living by herding. “When the animals take their sheep or goats, the families have no recourse but to catch it. In this case, they caught it and then they didn’t’ know what to do with it,” McCarthy said from Seattle.
    Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust both work to create programs that allow snow leopards and humans to live together in harmony. In Mongolia herders make handicrafts that are sold in zoos in Europe and the United States. If at the end of the year the community hasn’t killed any snow leopards, then the whole community gets a bonus,” McCarthy says.
    In Pakistan, where disease is a major threat to livestock, the groups offer livestock vaccination to villagers. “The loss to disease goes down so much that the community can afford to lose a few animals to the snow leopards,” McCarthy says.
    The shift in attitude towards these predators was apparent to Fite. “The local Afghans in the area were very concerned about the leopard and eager to help. It was particularly gratifying to observe that.”
    By Elizabeth Weise

  3. TIME picked up the story:

    To Save a Snow Leopard: A Special Afghanistan Mission
    By Tim McGirk / Kabul Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2010

    Read more:,8599,1972402,00.html#ixzz0iYqlezya

    In a valley high in the Wakhan Mountains of Afghanistan, a hunter several weeks ago waded through snowdrifts to check his traps and found that he had snared one of the rarest creatures alive: a snow leopard.

    If a naturalist had seen the leopard, he or she would have focused on its snowy fur with black, half-moon markings and its white goatee. A naturalist would have known that it is a solitary, elusive creature, a night hunter that roams the icy Central Asian peaks far above human villages. A naturalist would have known that there are perhaps less than a thousand of them left on the planet. But the hunter who snared the snow leopard saw only a $50,000 price tag. That was the fee supposedly offered by a wealthy Pakistani businessman to any hunter in the Wakhan who could deliver a snow leopard — alive.
    (See a TIME photoessay on the rare and endangereed snow leopard in Afghanistan:,29307,1972406,00.html).

    The leopard was snarling and furious at being caught, with its hind leg gashed by a wire snare. But otherwise, it was in good shape. With the help of a few friends, the hunter tied the leopard’s legs and muzzle, threw it in the back of a truck, and headed out of the Wakhan Valley to Feyzabad, a three-day journey of hairpin curves along terrifying mountain roads.

    But the capture of a snow leopard, once believed to be extinct in Afghanistan, didn’t stay secret for long. The feline was to become the object of a four-day rescue operation that involved NATO forces, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, a royal prince and even Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But the mission would end like so many others of similarly good intentions in Afghanistan.

    First, the hunter and his friends were undone by their own greed. Upon reaching Feyzabad, they thought they might get a better price for their cat than $50,000 and began to shop around. “Somebody on the Internet was supposedly offering $2 million for a live snow leopard,” says Mustapha Zaher, director general of the National Environmental Protection Agency in Kabul.

    But the environmental protection agency office in Feyzabad was tipped off about the cat. Zaher happens to be a prince, the grandson of the late Afghan monarch Zaher Shah, and he has far more clout around Kabul than the ordinary bureaucrat. “I raised a hullabaloo,” Zaher tells TIME with a grin. He paged through his contacts book, calling U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a contingent of German troops stationed in Feyzabad (who at first were skittish about leaving their base, even though that region of Afghanistan is relatively calm). And he called the Afghan President. It had been a hard day for Karzai; suicide bombers and gunmen had attacked an Indian guesthouse in Kabul, killing dozens. But the President was sympathetic to the plight of the leopard. “He told me, ‘Do what you can to save him,’ ” says Zaher.

    The leopard was confiscated from the hunters, and Richard Fite, a New Hampshire veterinarian who advises for the U.S. Agricultural Department in northern Afghanistan, was dispatched to tend the snow leopard. Fite was more accustomed to dealing with farm animals, and to encounter a snow leopard was a marvel. “I never imagined in my life that I would be so close to such a creature,” he says in a telephone interview. At first, the leopard was kept in a cage at the police station, where it was poked by curious onlookers.

    When Fite examined the leopard, it had been moved to the atrium of a nearby guesthouse, and its cage was littered with chunks of uneaten raw meat. The leopard growled at Fite but remained subdued, he says. When he looked into the eyes of the animal, says Fite, he could tell it was ailing. “All I could think of was the tragedy of it all,” he says, adding, “The mental stress on the animal from capture, transport, being bound and being held for almost a week would have been unimaginable.”

    Over the next three days, Fite tended to the leopard. Then, after advice from experts at the World Conservation Society in Kabul, a decision was made to fly the leopard back to the Wakhan and free it into the wild, once it had regained strength. “We didn’t want it dumped unconscious on a snowfield where it would freeze to death,” says Dave Lawson, the Society’s country director. Bad weather kept the U.S. helicopter grounded. After what seemed like a day of improved health — the leopard was holding its head up and grooming itself — and a break in the storm clouds that would allow the chopper to take off, Fite was optimistic. But the next morning, on March 2, he was informed that the snow leopard had died. “My guess — and it is just that — is that it died from shock” he says, adding, “Snow leopards are solitary, reclusive animals.”

    An Afghan elder who had seen the leopard in the cage wept when he saw its dead body carried out. “A lot of these mountain people have respect for wildlife,” says Lawson, who was told by an elder that “God put these animals here for us to look after.” The death of a snow leopard may not be of great consequence in Afghanistan’s larger turmoil. But for many Afghans, the snow leopard is a symbol of the country’s spirit of untamed wildness. For a few brief moments, everyone from the President to the top U.S. diplomat in the country turned their gaze away from politics and terrorism to a shivering, sick cat in a cage. And when it died, everyone from the highest echelons of power to humble villagers suffered a profound loss.

    — With reporting by Shah Mahmood Barakzai / Kabul

    Read more:,8599,1972402,00.html#ixzz0iYqeVlD5

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