IUCN Red List upgrades snow leopard status
"Vulnerable" does not mean safe
In September the respected conservation body, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), upgraded the status of snow leopards on its Red List from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’. The Red List is an accepted international standard for assessing the extinction risk of animals and plants across the globe. Its various categories range from ‘least concern’ to ‘extinct’. Species are re-assessed every 5-10 years, and categories allocated based on estimated numbers in the wild and the speed of decline.
The move to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive step, in part due to a slowing in the rate of decline because of an increase in conservation efforts. However, ‘vulnerable’ does not mean safe. The IUCN states species in this category still face “a high risk of extinction in the wild.” And whilst the rate may have slowed somewhat the snow leopard is still declining in numbers.
This result shows the right conservation methods can make a difference, but there is no room for complacency. Efforts to protect snow leopards and their habitats must increase if we are to see an upturn in their numbers rather than simply watch them decline at a slower pace.
The Aspinall Foundation began its breeding programme in 1983 with five snow leopards. All cats are notoriously sensitive to changes in their surroundings so it was a pleasant surprise when one pairing produced their first two cubs later that year. The fact they were kept off public display no doubt making a significant difference.
Since then we have celebrated the birth of cubs at both parks over the years. Many have been relocated to other zoos across the globe as part of an international captive breeding programme.
Currently we have two young snow leopards at Howletts. Nuri, a 5 year-old male, from Germany and Ziva, a 7 year-old female, from Banham zoo in the UK. We are hoping the pair will breed in the future.