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Nowell, K., Li, J., Paltsyn, M., Sharma, R. K. (2016). An ounce of prevention: Snow Leopard Crime Revisited.
Abstract: Snow Leopard poaching and trafficking – referred to herein as Snow Leopard crime – is revisited 13 years after TRAFFIC’s first report on the subject, Fading Footprints: The Killing and Trade of Snow Leopards (Theile, 2003). This report builds on a preliminary analysis published in May 2016 (Maheshwari and von Meibom, 2016). It addresses a major information gap concerning the linkage between retaliatory killing for livestock depredation and poaching for trade, and the scale at which both are taking place. The focus is on 12 Snow Leopard range countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. There is little evidence of illegal trade in Snow Leopards outside these countries.
Two sets of data were developed in the research for this report. The first is a Snow Leopard crime database containing records of seizures (legal actions taken by government authorities) and observations (reports of Snow Leopard killing, capture or trade, including market surveys). The database contains records dating back to 1989 (which are discussed in Annex 1), but the analysis focuses on the period since the release of Fading Footprints, the first TRAFFIC report: 2003-June 2016. Seizures are a function of law enforcement effort, effectiveness and publicization, as well as the magnitude of illegal trade, and so observations are an important component of the analysis, particularly for countries where few seizures are made or reported. However, detailed observations are not regularly published, and may be are biased toward countries where there is more effort, so a simple multiple choice survey was designed for Snow Leopard experts. Completed by 42 of them in 2016, and covering all 12 range countries, the survey asked experts for their total number of known cases, case outcomes, and reasons for killing Snow Leopards.
Based on the average number of cases known to experts over the average of nine years spent working in their geographic areas of knowledge, 221-450 Snow Leopards were estimated to have been poached annually since 2008. With the average rate of poaching detection estimated by experts at less than 38%, these numbers could be substantially higher. Of these, 55% are killed in retaliation for livestock depredation, 21% killed for trade and 18% taken by non-targeted methods such as snares. Although retaliatory killing is estimated to account for roughly half of Snow Leopard poaching (55%), experts estimate that there is a 50-50 chance (48%) that a poaching attempt will take place after a depredation incident. On average, experts estimate that 60% of retaliatory and non-targeted poaching incidents result in an attempt to sell; accounting for differences in this estimate between countries, a total of 108-219 Snow Leopards potentially enter into illegal trade. Over 90% of annual Snow Leopard poaching is estimated to occur in five range countries: China (103-236), Mongolia (34-53), Pakistan (23-53), India (21-45) and Tajikistan (20-25).
Given the uncertainties about population numbers, as well as the low rate of poaching detection, it is difficult to assess the impact of this offtake on the viability of the species. Snow Leopard range is used as a proxy for Snow Leopard population numbers; most national Snow Leopard population estimates are derived from extrapolating study site densities across likely range. Although China had by far the highest number of seizures and observations (309 Snow Leopards from 2003-2016) and the highest annual poaching estimate, its share of Snow Leopard crime was not disproportionate to its large share (at least 60%) of Snow Leopard range. Countries flagged for having disproportionate shares of crime levels relative to share of range included Afghanistan and Russia (seizures and observations), and Nepal and Pakistan (annual poaching estimates). China and Russia were most frequently identified as destinations for animals poached in other countries.
The expert survey indicates that the scale of Snow Leopard crime is more serious than apparent from the annual average number of Snow Leopard seized (18) or observed (34) from 2003-2016. This could be in part due to the challenges of law enforcement in the Snow Leopard’s remote montane habitat. Indeed, the survey found that an average of 23% of known cases were investigated by authorities, and only 14% prosecuted.
The minimum number of Snow Leopards in the seizures and observations database fell by 43% from the first half of the analysis period (2003-2009) compared to the second (2010-June 2016) (from 451 to 259). However, the decline was in the number of Snow Leopards observed in trade and in market surveys, which fell by 80% (from 280 to 54), with the largest decline taking place in China. There were more market surveys in the first half of the analysis period (13) than the second (5), but they
TRAFFIC report: An Ounce Of Prevention: Snow Leopard Crime Revisited xi
were repeated in the same places (Kabul, Afghanistan and cities in western China), and far fewer skins were seen (for example, 60 skins in the Chinese city of Linxia in 2007, compared to one in 2011). The numbers of Snow Leopards in other observations were roughly equivalent for the two periods (108 in the first and 100 in the second), but the numbers in trade observations fell by 46% (from 52 to 28). Otherwise, the number of Snow Leopards seized rose by 16% (from 115 to 133), and the number of individual seizure cases rose by 77% (from 44 to 78). The number of poached Snow Leopards seized doubled (from 31 to 60), and the observed number of poached Snow Leopards also increased by 14% (from 56 to 64). The number of Snow Leopards in trade seizures was the same in both periods (55), and the number smuggled roughly equivalent (29 seized in the first period, and 24 seized and observed in the second).
There are three possible interpretations of this situation of rising numbers of Snow Leopards poached (as measured by seizures and observations), steady numbers in smuggling and trade seizures, and steeply declining numbers in trade observations and market surveys. It could be that the limitations of available data and the authors’ inability to collect all of it has resulted in an incorrect picture. It is apparent that illegal trade has become more clandestine and difficult to detect in most countries, so that secondly, it could be increasing, as indicated by the apparent rise in poaching numbers. However, the number of Snow Leopards seized in large cases (more than 3 Snow Leopards per case), indicative of organized trafficking activity, declined from 60 in the 2003-2009 to 23 in 2010-2016. This points to a third possibility: that trade (and perhaps demand) is declining, possibly due to increased enforcement, but local people continue to opportunistically sell Snow Leopards they poached primarily to protect livestock.
With skins being the main Snow Leopard product type in trade (78%), the primary motive for buyers appears to be for display, with some observations of skins hanging on walls in homes and restaurants, as well as stuffed taxidermy specimens. Priced in the thousands of US dollars, skins have been described as a “symbol of wealth and power.” However, there probably exists very little in the way of a definable consumer segment deliberately seeking out such items. They are most likely purchased opportunistically – “impulse buys” – and most consumers probably only buy one in their lifetime. Once in a home, the illegal possession has very low probability of detection, and moreover law enforcement authorities may be reluctant to investigate in such situations. The purchase itself also has a low probability of detection, as indicated by the sharp decline in observed numbers of Snow Leopard skins being offered for sale. While growing personal wealth in Asia has been highlighted as a primary driver of illegal wildlife trade, poverty is also recognized as a driver, and the Snow Leopard trade may be more driven by rural people in Snow Leopard habitat attempting to make money and make up for livestock losses to predators than by wealthy people placing orders for luxury household decorations. Unlike the demand-driven Tiger trade (Annex 2), to which it otherwise bears many similarities, the market for Snow Leopards may be more a function of supply, and actions should focus on the communities living near Snow Leopards to reduce incentives to poach and sell. This notion is reflected in the aphorism behind the title of this report: an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Preventing livestock losses, offsetting the costs of losses and improving community support for Snow Leopard conservation are the most important approaches to tackling the problem of Snow Leopard trafficking.
Recommendations focus on addressing the leading cause of Snow Leopard poaching (retaliatory killing/Human-Wildlife Conflict) as well as measures to stem illegal trade, and are primarily targeted at the 12 Snow Leopard range countries. They are aligned with existing recommendations and planned actions, including CITES recommendations, draft Decisions and consultant’s reports around implementation of Resolution Conf. 12.5 (CITES 2015, 2016; Nowell and Pervushina, 2014); the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP, 2013, 2015, n.d.); the SLN’s Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (SLN, 2014); and WWF’s Snow Leopard Species Action Plan (WWF, 2015 and Sharma, 2016). There was also an informal discussion about recommendations to address poaching and illegal trade at the Second China Snow Leopard Forum, held in Urumqi, Xinjiang province 24-26 August 2016 (B. Weckworth, Panthera, pers. comm.).
Recommendations are grouped according to four primary actors in Snow Leopard conservation: 1) governments of Snow Leopard range countries; 2) communities living in Snow Leopard range; 3) conservation organizations and Snow Leopard experts; and 4) donor governments and agencies.
Li, J., Xiao, L., Lu, Z. (2016). Challenges of snow leopard conservation in China. Science China Life Sciences, 59(6), 637–639.
Li, J., McCarthy, T. M., Wang, H., Weckworth, B. V., Shaller, G. B., Mishra, C., Lu, Z., Beissinger, S. R. (2016). Climate refugia of snow leopards in High Asia. Biological Conservation, (203), 188–196.
Abstract: Rapidwarming in High Asia is threatening its unique ecosystemand endemic species, especially the endangered
snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Snow leopards inhabit the alpine zone between snow line and tree line, which
contracts and expands greatly during glacier-interglacial cycles. Here we assess impacts of climate change on
global snow leopard habitat from the last glacial maximum (LGM; 21 kyr ago) to the late 21st century. Based
on occurrence records of snow leopards collected across all snow leopard range countries from 1983 to 2015,
we built a snow leopard habitat model using the maximum entropy algorithm (MaxEnt 3.3.3k). Then we
projected this model into LGM, mid-Holocene and 2070. Analysis of snow leopard habitat map from LGM to
2070 indicates that three large patches of stable habitat have persisted from the LGM to present in the Altai,
Qilian, and Tian Shan-Pamir-Hindu Kush-Karakoram mountain ranges, and are projected to persist through the
late 21st century. These climatically suitable areas account for about 35% of the snow leopard's current extent,
are large enough to support viable populations, and should function as refugia for snow leopards to survive
through both cold and warm periods. Existence of these refugia is largely due to the unique mountain environment
in High Asia, which maintains a relatively constant arid or semi-arid climate. However, habitat loss leading
to fragmentation in the Himalaya and Hengduan Mountains, as well as increasing human activities, will present
conservation challenges for snow leopards and other sympatric species.
Mallon, D., Kulikov, M. (2015). Transboundary Snow Leopard Conservation in Central Asia: Report of the FFI/CMS Workshop, 1-2 December 2014.
Johansson, O., McCarthy, T., Samelius, G., Andren, H., Tumursukh, L., Mishra, C. (2015). Snow leopard predation in a livestock dominated landscape in Mongolia. Biological Conservation, 184, 251–258.
Abstract: Livestock predation is an important cause of endangerment of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) across
its range. Yet, detailed information on individual and spatio-temporal variation in predation patterns of
snow leopards and their kill rates of livestock and wild ungulates are lacking.
We collared 19 snow leopards in the Tost Mountains, Mongolia, and searched clusters of GPS positions
to identify prey remains and estimate kill rate and prey choice.
Snow leopards killed, on average, one ungulate every 8 days, which included more wild prey (73%) than
livestock (27%), despite livestock abundance being at least one order of magnitude higher. Predation on
herded livestock occurred mainly on stragglers and in rugged areas where animals are out of sight of herders.
The two wild ungulates, ibex (Capra ibex) and argali (Ovis ammon), were killed in proportion to their
relative abundance. Predation patterns changed with spatial (wild ungulates) and seasonal (livestock)
changes in prey abundance. Adult male snow leopards killed larger prey and 2–6 times more livestock
compared to females and young males. Kill rates were considerably higher than previous scat-based estimates, and kill rates of females were higher than kill rates of males. We suggest that (i) snow leopards
prey largely on wild ungulates and kill livestock opportunistically, (ii) retaliatory killing by livestock herders
is likely to cause greater mortality of adult male snow leopards compared to females and young
males, and (iii) total off-take of prey by a snow leopard population is likely to be much higher than previous
Braden, K. (2015). Illegal recreational hunting in Russia: the role of social norms and elite violators. Eurasian Geography and Economics, .
Abstract: Poaching in Russia has been reported to be of catastrophic proportions and threatens
maintenance of biodiversity. Management of game species has stabilized some numbers,
but both endangered species listed in the Russian Red Book and animals traditionally
viewed as hunting prey are diminishing in some regions. Rank-and-file
hunters, increasingly shut off from access to hunting grounds, have expressed a negative
reaction to new hunting regulations adopted by the Russian government in 2012.
While high-profile poaching incidents by so-called “VIP hunters” do not apparently
make up a large portion of cases, the symbolism of the alleged crimes has a derogatory
impact on ordinary hunters because lawlessness is reinforced by perceptions of
impunity for elite poachers.
Alexander, J., Chen, P., Damerell, P., Youkui, W., Hughes, J., Shi, K., Riordan, P. (2015). Human wildlife conflict involving large carnivores in Qilianshan, China and the minimal paw-print of snow leopards. Biological Conservation, 187, 1–9.
Abstract: In this paper, we assess local perceptions towards snow leopards in North West China using a framework
depicting key conflict domains. We describe the perceived threats posed to humans by the snow leopard
and set them within beliefs and attitudes towards other species within the large carnivore assemblage in
this region. Surveys were conducted in seven villages within Qilianshan National Nature Reserve, Gansu
Province, China, to document reports of snow leopard (Panthera uncia), grey wolf (Canis lupus), Eurasian
lynx (Lynx lynx) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) depredation of livestock, and local attitudes towards each
species. Questionnaire-based interviews were held with 60 households and 49 livestock herders. Herding
of yak, sheep and goats was found to be a common livelihood activity among households in all villages.
Herders reported losing livestock to all four carnivore species. Herders reported that depredation was the
most common event affecting livestock, compared with natural disasters or disease, and represented a
total loss of 3.6% of the livestock population during the previous year. Most (53%) depredation losses were
attributed to lynx, while snow leopards were held responsible for only 7.8% of depredation losses. The
reported impact of snow leopards on herding activities was relatively small and the majority of both
householders and herders expressed positive attitudes towards them and supported measures for their
protection. Households and herders held negative attitudes towards lynx, wolves and bears, however,
most likely due to their perceived threat to livestock and humans. Understanding community perceptions
of threats posed by wildlife is vital for gaining community support for, and engagement in, conflict
Tumursukh, L., Suryawanshi, K. R., Mishra, C., McCarthy, T. M., Boldgiv, B. (2015). Status of the mountain ungulate prey of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia in the Tost Local Protected Area, South Gobi, Mongolia. Oryx, , 1–6.
Abstract: The availability of wild prey is a critical predictor of carnivore density. However, few conservation pro- grammes have focused on the estimation and monitoring of wild ungulate populations and their trends, especially in the remote mountains of Central Asia. We conducted double-observer surveys to estimate the populations of ibex Capra sibirica and argali Ovis ammon in the mountain- ous regions of Tost Local Protected Area, South Gobi prov- ince, Mongolia, which is being considered for designation as a Nature Reserve. We also conducted demographic surveys of the more abundant ibex to examine their sex-ratio and the survival of young during –. The estimated ibex population remained stable in  and  and the es- timated argali population increased from  in  to  in . The biomass of wild ungulates was c. % that of live- stock. Mortality in young ibex appeared to increase after weaning, at the age of  months. We estimated the popula- tion of wild ungulates was sufficient to support – adult snow leopards Panthera uncia. The adult snow leopard population in our study area during –, estimated independently using camera-trap-based mark–recapture methods, was –. Based on our results we identify the Tost Local Protected Area as an important habitat for the conservation of these ungulates and their predator, the Endangered snow leopard, and recommend elevation of its status to a Nature Reserve.
Alexander, J. S., Gopalswamy, A. M., Shi, K., Riordan, P. (2015). Face Value: Towards Robust Estimates of Snow Leopard Densities. Plos One, .
Abstract: When densities of large carnivores fall below certain thresholds, dramatic ecological effects
can follow, leading to oversimplified ecosystems. Understanding the population status of
such species remains a major challenge as they occur in low densities and their ranges are
wide. This paper describes the use of non-invasive data collection techniques combined
with recent spatial capture-recapture methods to estimate the density of snow leopards
Panthera uncia. It also investigates the influence of environmental and human activity indicators
on their spatial distribution. A total of 60 camera traps were systematically set up during
a three-month period over a 480 km2 study area in Qilianshan National Nature Reserve,
Gansu Province, China. We recorded 76 separate snow leopard captures over 2,906 trapdays,
representing an average capture success of 2.62 captures/100 trap-days. We identified
a total number of 20 unique individuals from photographs and estimated snow leopard
density at 3.31 (SE = 1.01) individuals per 100 km2. Results of our simulation exercise indicate
that our estimates from the Spatial Capture Recapture models were not optimal to
respect to bias and precision (RMSEs for density parameters less or equal to 0.87). Our
results underline the critical challenge in achieving sufficient sample sizes of snow leopard
captures and recaptures. Possible performance improvements are discussed, principally by
optimising effective camera capture and photographic data quality.
Taubmann, J., Sharma, K., Uulu, K Z., Hines, J. E., Mishra, C. (2015). Status assessment of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia and other large mammals in the Kyrgyz Alay, using community knowledge corrected for imperfect detection. Fauna & Flora International, , 1–11.
Abstract: The Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia occurs
in the Central Asian Mountains, which cover c.  million
km. Little is known about its status in the Kyrgyz Alay
Mountains, a relatively narrow stretch of habitat connecting
the southern and northern global ranges of the species. In
 we gathered information on current and past (,
the last year of the Soviet Union) distributions of snow leopards
and five sympatric large mammals across , km
of the Kyrgyz Alay.We interviewed  key informants from
local communities. Across  -km grid cells we obtained
, and  records of species occurrence (site
use) in  and , respectively. The data were analysed
using themulti-season site occupancy framework to incorporate
uncertainty in detection across interviewees and time
periods. High probability of use by snow leopards in the past
was recorded in .% of the Kyrgyz Alay. Between the two
sampling periods % of sites showed a high probability of
local extinction of snow leopard. We also recorded high
probability of local extinction of brown bear Ursus arctos
(% of sites) and Marco Polo sheep Ovis ammon polii
(% of sites), mainly in regions used intensively by people.
Data indicated a high probability of local colonization by
lynx Lynx lynx in % of the sites. Although wildlife has
declined in areas of central and eastern Alay, regions in
the north-west, and the northern and southern fringes
appear to retain high conservation value.