Hooray! Wait, what?
Since 1986, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified snow leopards as "endangered". However, with conservationists' efforts, the species may be reclassified.
It has been previously thought that there are only about 5300 of these Asian cat, but, a new (2016) study estimated their population to be actually around 8000. This clearly shows that they aren't as badly threatened as once thought with regards to IUCN's criteria.
So, with Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and other experts' recommendation, the leopard is being considered to be designated as “vulnerable” instead (which means that its risk of extinction is less urgent).
This move, however, may backfire as the change of snow leopard's status will also alter public's perceptions of it. Tom McCarthy of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, says “the word ‘endangered’ carries this aura about it. It’s a powerful, evocative word. What is a ‘vulnerable’ animal?”
And while he supports the change, he noted that the reclassification still means snow leopards are in trouble. “It’s slightly better off than we thought, but it’s still facing a high level of extinction.”
Which brings us to one of the biggest worries on this new listing--protection. People's drive to help these cats could be affected negatively. “How are we going to get people behind this species and get the dollars we hope for?” asks Beth Schaefer, general curator at the Los Angeles Zoo. “If you say they’re not endangered, people go ‘ah OK’, and they move on.”
And so problems like trafficking becomes continually unsolved. “Given that wild felids are globally in danger of extinction through poaching, trophy hunting, and other threats, maintaining strong legal protections for these species is critical,” says Anna Frostic, senior attorney at the Humane Society.
Again, while this change may sound like a win (well, it technically is), if not properly understood, all of conservationists' efforts would be for nothing. “It’s not time to take our foot off the gas in the conservation process,” says Jean-Gaël Collomb, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Network. “This is still an animal with a small population across a very big range with active threats, most likely still declining, so we shouldn’t misinterpret reclassification.”
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!