Jul 14

Despite decades of war and poverty, the mountainous regions of north-eastern Afghanistan are still home to a healthy population of the elusive snow leopard, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies, reports that researchers were able to identify 30 snow leopards in 16 different locations, using camera traps placed by WCS-trained community rangers. The valuable images represent the first camera trap records of snow leopards in Afghanistan.

Photo of wild snow leopard in stalking pose

Wild snow leopard in stalking pose

The discovery gives hope to the world’s most elusive big cat, which numbers between 4,500 and 7,500 individuals scattered across a dozen countries in Central Asia. 

This is a wonderful discovery – it shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan,” said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director for Asia Programs. 

Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage.” 

Still imperilled 

Snow leopards remain threatened in the region, with poaching for pelts, persecution by shepherds, and the capture of live animals for the illegal pet trade all documented.  

In response, WCS has developed a set of conservation initiatives to protect snow leopards. These include partnering with local communities, training rangers, and undertaking education and outreach efforts.

WCS also plans to start marking snow leopards to estimate the total population size in the region.

Photo of snow leopard walking through snow

Adult male snow leopard in habitat

Wildlife surviving in war zone 

This positive news comes as WCS reported that a wealth of other rare wildlife has survived along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan. Records include sightings of carnivores such as Asiatic black bears, grey wolves, golden jackals and leopard cats, as well as more common species like the Indian crested porcupine, rhesus macaque and the yellow-throated marten. 

Unexpectedly, the scientists also saw a few common palm civets, cat-like mammals that had never before been documented in Afghanistan.

Photo of leopard cat

Leopard cat

View more images and videos of the snow leopard on ARKive

View more species from Afghanistan on ARKive

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author