Emerging potential threats include mining and other infrastructure development that would affect their habitats.
The I.U.C.N. Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of plant and animal species. In its full report on the snow leopard, it noted the population numbers could be partly speculative, given the difficulties in collecting hard data on the elusive and secretive species across all regions.
Snow leopards range across 12 countries in Central Asia in remote and rugged terrain. Their elusive qualities have inspired travelogues and surveys over the years as naturalists tried to track down the animals in the wild. Hundreds were placed in zoos around the world, including a few in New York City.
After the conservation group’s report was issued, the Snow Leopard Trust said the “vulnerable” classification still meant there was a high risk of extinction. It took issue with the lack of reliable techniques such as camera traps or genetic analysis, saying the assessment relied in part on “asking people how many snow leopards they think exist in any area,” the trust said.
“We are most concerned about how the lower status may weaken conservation efforts in range countries and the ability of local governments to stop these threats,” it said.
Tom McCarthy, an executive director of Panthera, a conservation group that focuses on the world’s wild cats, said that to be considered endangered there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards, with a high rate of decline.
Dr. McCarthy, who was on the I.U.C.N. assessment team, said in a statement that the reclassification did not mean “that snow leopards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate. The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’ and is likely still declining — just not at the rate previously thought.”
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