China’s State Forestry Administration has seized the pelts of 27 snow leopards from a black market trader. The dealer, a Mr. Ma, from western China was arrested recently. Aside from leopard furs, a stash of 104 bear skins and parts of clouded leopards and lynx were also confiscated from him.
Snow Leopard Napping
This bust is a record of sorts and it puts a spotlight on the threat that is faced by this beautiful cat which is described at a very high risk of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Referring to the recent raid in western China, Ge Yun, of the China-based nonprofit Xinjiang Conservation Fund (XCF) said:
Police found three snow leopard heads and two snow leopard skeletons in the raid.
The arrested trader who is now in Chinese custody revealed to the police that he had purchased the pelts in his possession in Tibet and Qinghai in 2006. Since then, he had successfully sold two for a profit of around U.S. $530.
Mr. Li who works with the Chinese State Forest Administration under whose auspices the raid was conducted maintained that:
The snow leopard is endangered, and the government is working very hard to protect it.
The snow leopard or the Ounce as it is affectionately called is a large mountain cat found in Central and South Asia – including parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia and China. An elusive cat, the snow leopard is able to cut across snowy terrain, scrubland, grassland, and the steppes. It weighs between 35 to 55 kilograms and is often distinguished from other similar species by its proportionately longer tail, which helps it maintain its balance on the rugged terrain and unstable surfaces of its habitat. The Snow Leopard’s tail also doubles as a warmth cover and is used to cover its nose and mouth in very cold conditions. Its paws are also covered with fur to protect it form the extreme climate
Unfortunately for the snow leopard, its beautiful fur can be traded for a fortune. Blessed with a soft grey coat with ringed spots and rosettes of black on brown, the coat turns white in the winter. This makes it a favoured target for unscrupulous poachers. Moreover, locals also prize its skin and bones for traditional remedies. The illegal traffic in pelts and other body parts has in fact become the primary reason for the decline in snow leopard numbers. It is estimated that there are only 3,000 to 7,000 of these cats in the wild.
In the aftermath of this raid, several conservation groups and activists have asked for a stronger multinational presence in the enforcement of wildlife laws.
Read: National Geographic