Living with leopards in Northern Pakistan

06 August 2008 | News story from IUCN website

An innovative scheme encouraging local communities to live peacefully with leopards has reached a new milestone by extending its range to three new communities in Northern Pakistan.

Since June 2005, there have been 13 leopards killed in the Abbottabat district of Pakistan, after a rogue animal tragically attacked and killed a reported 6 people. Before then, predation on livestock had been the main cause of retaliation towards leopards, which escalated dramatically after the fatal attacks.

The aim of the project is to find a mutually beneficial solution to the human-leopard conflict. It is supported by IUCN’s small grants programme the Sir Peter Scott Fund. The community-based ‘livestock insurance scheme’ was created to reduce the economic losses to farmers when their animals are killed by leopards. The funds are managed and administered by the local community themselves, and has proven to be very successful.

“This scheme provides a tangible incentive to local communities to support conservation and find ways to live in harmony with leopards,” says Muhammad Waseem, Research Officer for the project.

Launched back in March 2006, membership of the scheme has steadily grown ever since. There is now government interest in bringing the initiative to new areas of Pakistan. Three new Abbottabat communities – Bako, Lahur Kus and Thandiani – have approached the project and are in the process of being included into the scheme.

For more information about this project contact: Muhammad Waseem, Research Officer, ‘Leopard Conservation in Pakistan’ at

Illicit trade in big cat skins continues in China

By Paul Eccleston

The illicit trade in skins from Asian big cats is still flourishing in China.

July 15, 2008- The skins of snow leopards, leopards and tigers are openly on sale in shops, an investigation has revealed.

Photographic evidence of cat skins on sale in China
Photographic evidence of cat skins on sale in China

Buyers come from all over China to purchase the skins which are marketed as rugs or taxidermy specimens.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) which exposes environmental crimes a worldwide, found 13 snow leopard skins, 13 leopard skins and 1 whole tiger skin for sale in just one street during a five-day period in June 2008.

The gruesome skins could be seen on display in shops despite a ban on the trade. One trader questioned by investigators claimed he was tipped off by an ‘insider’ before a visit by the authorities giving him time to hide the skins.

All Asian big cats are becoming increasingly rare and all are protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The 57th meeting of the Standing Committee of CITES is currently being held in Geneva where conservation groups will urge China to take tougher enforcement action against shops illegally trading in animal skins.


The Chinese authorities have been taking measures to curb the demand for products – particularly in Tibetan communities – which has helped wild tiger populations such as India, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia but numbers are still critically low.

EIA investigators travelled to Linxia, in Gansu Province after being tipped off that the trade continued to flourish.

Traders said there had been a fall in demand from the Tibetan community and this had resulted in a reduction in the number of shops which openly sold animal skins but the EIA found five traders who had previously been involved in selling Asian big cat skins.

Big cat skins for sale were said to have been sourced from Afghanistan, Burma, China (Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Xinjiang), India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia and Vietnam.

One trader offered a whole tiger skin and said that a contact in the local Forest Bureau alerted him in advance of Bureau inspections.

The latest EIA investigation of 30 shops in Beida Jie (Beida Street) found a total of 14 shops offering to sell illegal skins. They were able to see:

Evidence of skins on sale collected by the Environmental Investigation Agency
Evidence of skins on sale collected by the Environmental Investigation Agency

9 whole snow leopard skins

4 snow leopard skins made into rugs

13 whole leopard skins

5 pieces of leopard skin trim

1 whole tiger skin

1 piece of tiger skin trim.

Two more shop owners said they did not have Asian big cat skins on the premises but could supply snow leopard and tiger skin.

EIA admitted that enforcement efforts in China to date had resulted in the confiscation of 30 snow leopard and 51 leopard skins between 2003 and 2007 but claimed these were only cosmetic actions and there was an urgent need for more covert, pro-active, coordinated, intelligence-led raids against known and persistent offenders.

In May 2008 China claimed that China that the open availability of Asian big cat skins had almost been eliminated after one trader found in possession of 27 snow leopard skins and snow leopard bone leopard, bear and lynx skins was jailed for 11 years and fined $14,600.

Foreigners threaten Afghan snow leopards

By Jonathon Burch

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s snow leopards have barely survived three decades of war. But now the few remaining mountain leopards left in Afghanistan face another threat — foreigners involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Despite a complete hunting ban across Afghanistan since 2002, snow leopard furs regularly end up for sale on international military bases and at tourist bazaars in the capital. Foreigners have ready cash to buy the pelts as souvenirs and impoverished Afghans break poaching laws to supply them.

Tucked between souvenir stores on Chicken Street, Kabul’s main tourist trap, several shops sell fur coats and pelts taken from many of Afghanistan’s threatened and endangered animals.

“This one is only $300 (151 pounds),” one shopkeeper told Reuters, producing a snow leopard pelt from the back of his shop.

“It was shot several times,” he said pointing to the patches of fur sewn together. “The better ones are only shot once. The skin remains intact,” he says as his assistant brings out a larger pelt, this time with no patches. “This one is $900.”

All the shopkeepers said they had more pelts at home and that they had sold furs to foreigners over the past few weeks.

Asked if it was easy to send the furs back home, one shopkeeper who did not want to be named said: “No problem! We hide the fur inside blankets and send it back to your country.”

Snow leopards along with several other animals in Afghanistan are listed as endangered or threatened under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Anyone caught knowingly transporting a fur across an international border is liable to a large fine. In the United States, it could result in a $100,000 fine and one year jail term.

It is hard to know the exact numbers of snow leopards left in Afghanistan due to the creatures’ elusive nature and the lack of any case studies during the last three decades of conflict, said Dr. Peter Smallwood, Afghanistan country director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

But what is known is that the snow leopard is endangered.

“If you look historically at Afghanistan, Afghanistan actually had more big cat species than the entire continent of Africa,” said Clayton Miller, Environmental Advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Continue reading “Foreigners threaten Afghan snow leopards”

South Asian nations pledge cooperation on rampant wildlife trade

Source: WWF Web Site

An Uttar Pradesh, India seizure consisted of 70 leopard skins, four tiger skins, black buck skins, 18,000 leopard claws, and 132 tiger claws.
© Rahul Dutta, TRAFFIC India

06 Feb 2008
Kathmandu, Nepal – All eight South Asian nations have agreed to step up cooperation in addressing wildlife trade problems in the area.

The region, home to such rare and prized species as tigers, Asiatic lions, snow leopards, Asian elephants and one-horned rhinoceroses, is recognized as one of the prime targets of international organized wildlife crime networks.

Wildlife trade officials from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka met in Kathmandu last week and defined a series of joint actions under the new South Asia Wildlife Trade Initiative (SAWTI).

The direction for the initiative was given by ministers from the eight nations, at the Tenth Meeting of Governing Council for the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) last year.

“The agreement reached on SAWTI puts in place the foundations for a cooperative effort to crack down on illegal trade and to improve the management of wild animals and plants that can be legally traded under national laws in the region,” said SACEP Director-General Dr Arvind A. Boaz.
Continue reading “South Asian nations pledge cooperation on rampant wildlife trade”

India’s Largest Wildlife Trade Racket Busted

In one of the biggest wildlife cases this decade, the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh Police with the assistance of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) seized 3 tiger skins and 3 tiger skeletons.

Sixteen people were arrested, including wildlife trader Shabeer Hasan Qureshi who is an accused in at least 4 major wildlife cases. Qureshi is the prime accused in the January 2000 Khaga case when 4 tiger skins and a huge haul of other wildlife products were seized. Three other traders were arrested along with 2 tiger poachers and 10 women couriers who belong to the Baheliya community.

The case is a landmark for wildlife enforcement as it includes the arrest of three key elements of wildlife crime: traders, poachers and couriers.

Continue reading “India’s Largest Wildlife Trade Racket Busted”

Huge stockpile of furs of endangered species burnt

December 5, 2007


Srinagar : Wildlife authorities in the Kashmir Valley have torched nearly eight truckloads of furs and skins of endangered animals, worth an estimated Rs.99 million ($2.5 million) in the international market, as part of its efforts to stop the illegal trade.

The huge stockpile, including 125,000 endangered animal items surrendered by traders in the Kashmir Valley, were publicly burnt by wildlife officials Monday. It is estimated to be the single largest collection of wildlife skins in the world.

The burning was part of the government’s effort to discourage the illegal trade in animal parts that threatens to wipe out many of India’s most endangered species.

The incinerated items included skins, rugs, fur coats and gloves made from dozens of tigers, snow leopards, leopards, hill fox, leopard cats, black bear, otters and wolves.

Continue reading “Huge stockpile of furs of endangered species burnt”

Animal Skins Burnt by Kashmir Authorities, Including over 100 Snow Leopard Items


December 4, 2007- Animal skins and body parts worth millions of pounds have been ceremonially burned in the Indian state of Kashmir.

The destruction of the skins from some of India’s most endangered species was the latest phase of a campaign to stamp out the illegal trade.


Eight truckloads of pelts from animals including snow leopard, leopard, tiger, black bear, otters and wolves, were thrown onto the bonfire.

Ashok Kumar, trustee of the Wildlife Trust of India and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) partner, lit the pyre. “This is a hugely significant moment. Going up in flames was the largest single agglomeration of wildlife skins anywhere in the world.”


All species are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act of 1978 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). The destruction was ordered by the High Court.

Continue reading “Animal Skins Burnt by Kashmir Authorities, Including over 100 Snow Leopard Items”

Record Cache of Snow Leopard Parts Seized in China

Kelly Hearn
for National Geographic News

September 10, 2007

The pelts of 27 snow leopards were recently seized from a black market trader in China. The record bust highlights the menacing threat to one of the world’s most endangered cats, experts say.

Acting on a tip, agents from China’s State Forestry Administration raided an apartment in western China last month, according to state media.

Snow leopard and baby picture


Police arrested the fur trader, identified only as Mr. Ma, after discovering the cache of pelts, along with 104 bear skins and parts of clouded leopards and lynx.

“Police found three snow leopard heads and two snow leopard skeletons in the raid,” Ge Yun, of the China-based nonprofit Xinjiang Conservation Fund (XCF), told National Geographic News.

The seizure is reportedly the largest haul of leopard pelts since Chinese officials began keeping records in 1949.

An official with China’s State Forest Administration, who identified himself as Mr. Li, confirmed the arrests in a telephone interview but declined to offer details.

“The snow leopard is endangered, and the government is working very hard to protect it,” he said.

Elusive, Valuable Cat

An elusive cat with short front limbs, large paws, and elongated hind legs, the snow leopard is able to traverse snowy mountain terrain, scrubland, grassland, and steppes.

Its range includes the rugged lands of South and Central Asia—including parts of China, India, and Nepal—where its skin and bones are sought for garments and traditional remedies (see map).

In harsh, politically unstable regions within the animal’s range, a single snow leopard pelt can mean a small fortune.

Mr. Ma, for example, told police he bought the pelts in Tibet and the northwestern province of Qinghai last year.

He had since sold two for a profit of 4,000 yuan (U.S. $530), according to news reports.

The illicit traffic in pelts has been the main culprit in the snow leopard’s decline, conservation groups say, and activists have called for stronger multinational enforcement of wildlife laws.

According to one estimate, only 3,000 to 7,000 of the cats remain in the wild.

Changing Threats

The dynamics of pelt- and animal-smuggling in the region are changing gradually amid increased law enforcement and redoubled efforts by conservation groups and religious leaders to change traditional attitudes.

But the black market remains.

In 2005, XCF published an investigation on the poaching and illicit trade of snow leopards in Xinjiang Province in northwestern China.

“We found that the trade in skins in India, Nepal, and China targets markets in Tibet and Sichuan,” XCF’s Yun said.

Tibetans are known for wearing coats of tiger, leopard, and snow leopard skin, displaying them during a traditional horse festival in the town of Litang in Sichuan Province.

“There, local skin dealers buy big cat pelts from the [nearby] Gansu Province,” Yun said.

She and others have been encouraged by the recent efforts of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, who has asked followers to stop using, selling, or buying wild animals and their derivatives.

Conservationists who recently visited the Litang horse festival saw positive signs, Yun said.

“They were very happy to see that not one single wild animal skin was used,” she said.

But in Gansu Province, near where Mr. Ma was arrested and where the majority population is Muslim, attitudes are still fixed.

“There, cat-skin sales are still rampant,” Yun said, adding that her group is planning to write a series of conservation documents that draw from the Koran.

“We would like to convince the local spiritual leader of Muslims to give teachings on wildlife conservation,” she said.

Beyond Attitudes

Other experts say threats to the big cats go beyond the demand for skins. Instead, shrinking habitats and dwindling prey are putting snow leopards in disastrous contact with farmers, they point out.

“Poaching still is a threat to the [leopard] population in Tibet,” said Dawa Tsering of the conservation nonprofit WWF in China.

“However, the root cause of poaching is not because of skin trade but human-wildlife conflict.”

Habitat fragmentation and declines in the numbers of wild goat and sheep—the snow leopard’s natural prey—are forcing cats to attack domestic livestock, conservationists say.

The result has been an increase in what Tsering called “reprisal killings” by farmers and herders.

Even so, Tsering said, officials in Tibet have made gains in cracking down on poachers.

“In general, large-scale illegal poaching has been stopped by the government,” he said.

“The Tibet local government invests large resources to protect wildlife that includes Tibetan antelope and snow leopard.”

(Read related story: “Tibet’s ‘Movie Star’ Antelope Slowly Rebounding, Expedition Finds” [February 6, 2007].)

He said police stations are frequently found across remote wildlife preserves and that officials have proved willing to work with international groups to better enforce local laws.

“However, it is essential to deal with the conflict to reduce retaliatory killing,” Tsering said.

Father and Son Charged with Selling Illegal Skins, Including Snow Leopard

Father, like son, charged in selling of tiger skin

Friday, July 20, 2007

A father might be going the way of his son if federal prosecutors have their way.

Barry McMaster, of Greensburg, is charged with violating the Endangered Species Act by selling a tiger skin to an undercover agent.

His son, Kevin McMaster, is currently serving a 25-month prison sentence for doing the same thing.

Both men were caught as part of an undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in the case, agents first became aware of the McMasters’ business, Exotic & Unique Gifts, when Kevin McMaster sent an unsolicited e-mail to an undercover agent, asking if he was interested in “cat skins.”

What followed was a yearlong business relationship, in which the undercover agent, Timothy Santel, sent Kevin McMaster $17,800 for the skins of a tiger, a snow leopard and two leopards.

Kevin McMaster ran the Exotic & Unique Gifts location in Port St. Lucie, Fla. His father runs the store on South Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg.

Yesterday, Barry McMaster answered the phone at his store but refused to respond to any questions.

He is charged with two federal counts involving interstate commerce, including offering an endangered species for sale and shipping an endangered species.

According to court papers, he was paid $8,500 by an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent for a tanned tiger skin in December 2004.

The Exotic & Unique stores specialized in selling “skins, mounts and horns.”

A catalog Mr. McMaster gave to the undercover agent lists a number of available animals, including tigers, leopards and panthers, as well as blue and black wildebeest, impala, African lions, crocodiles, gazelle, vervet monkey and zebras.

“If you don’t see what you are looking for, please ask,” the cataglog reads. “We have two stores and import from Africa regularly.”

The affidavit for the search warrant recounts the conversations between both the McMasters and the undercover agents.

Often, Kevin McMaster told Mr. Santel that he couldn’t actually sell the tiger hides to him, but that they would be a gift in exchange for buying a legal zebra skin.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, neither father nor son had ever been issued any wildlife permits or licenses, including threatened or endangered species. They also had never presented any wildlife imports to the Fish and Wildlife Service for clearance.

The affidavit for the search focuses primarily on Mr. Santel’s dealings with Kevin McMaster, who pleaded guilty in January 2006 in Miami to selling more than $200,000 worth of skins and other items, including gorilla skulls and baby tiger mounts, from 2003 to 2004.

Mr. McMaster told him: “All of the spots and stripes have died of old age or medical reasons.”

But Mr. Santel said yesterday that doesn’t matter.

“It’s the simple rule of supply and demand,” he said. “Regardless if the tiger skin came from a roadside zoo or the wilds of India, if someone has one, someone else is going to want one.

“It creates a demand for it.”

And that means it won’t always be captive-raised animals that are taken.

“We do see the wild populations being affected,” Mr. Santel said. “It’s extremely difficult to know the true origins of the skins.”

First published on July 19, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at or 412-263-2620.