Snow Leopards May Soon Vanish, Thanks In Part To Climate Change

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Climate change is unforgiving when it comes to the world’s most enigmatic species. Penguins have been forced to climb cliffs to breed as sea ice melts. Polar bears are starving to death as they lose the means to hunt. And coral reefs around the globe are turning ghostly white.

Now, according to a report released this week by the World Wildlife Fund, we have another creature to add to a growing list of the imperiled. Populations of snow leopards, considered among the most elusive big cats on the planet, have declined more than 20 percent over the past 16 years. Should climate change continue unchecked, more than a third of the animals’ limited habitat may disappear.

The conservation group calls for urgent international action to protect these “ghost cats,” which live some 3,000 meters above sea level in the rocky mountains of Central Asia. There may be fewer than 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild. The animals have been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered since the mid 1980s.

Some of the prime drivers of the species’ decline are familiar — hunting, poaching, retribution killing by communities that lose livestock. But snow leopards are highly adapted to the snow-covered peaks far from humanity, with a coat that makes them near invisible when the weather is right.

Because climate change poses such a great threats to the planet’s cold places, including arid Asian mountain biomes, the cats themselves are at the mercy of a warming world.

Along with melting sea ice and the thawing of the permafrost, the WWF warns that even slightly warmer temperatures may compel farmers to plant crops higher up the mountains in leopard territory. These farmers bring along sheep, which eat the —> Read More