There isn’t a poaching crisis for these big cats, unlike their feline fellows in Africa. But climate change is a real threat.
Snow leopards live in rocky mountain ranges in Central Asia and this high-altitude habitat is very, very vulnerable to rising temperatures. If action is not taken, more than one third of the snow leopards’ habitat will become unsuitable to them.
The snow leopard population has decreased by 20% in the past 16 years, with just 4,000 left in the wild. The big cats already face threats from human conflict and climate change only exacerbates this decline.
As more habitat becomes available, humans can expand and encroach on the mountains, which results in a smaller hunting range for the leopards. Conservationists are also concerned that climate change will result in more killing of snow leopards, to prevent or retaliate against any conflict with livestock.
Furthermore, these mountains not only provide a home for snow leopards, but they also provides water for more than 330 million of people. Climate change could have serious impacts on the water flow from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of all those people depending on it.
WWF Global Snow Leopard Leader, and coordinator of WWF’s first ever global strategy to conserve the species, Rishi Kumar Sharma says:
“Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.”
Across these six countries, almost 80% of great apes live outside the nationally and internationally protected areas. WWF’s Great Apes Programme Manager David Greer says:
“Central African governments have demonstrated increased willingness to protect the dwindling populations of gorillas and chimpanzees. Now bold steps are needed to ensure that existing wildlife laws are upheld and that weak governance, which results in widespread impunity for wildlife traffickers, is eliminated, to give great apes the opportunity to survive and thrive.”
Although the previous plan from 2005 helped slow the decline of ape populations, growing human populations and expanding industries are putting pressure on the remaining apes. The new plan addresses these issues by identifying 18 landscapes as critical for the animals’ survival. In addition, the plan calls for improvements in law enforcement, management of great ape habitats and land-use planning.
The new plan was published by WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Conservation Society and partners and was funded by the Arcus Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Great Apes Survival Partnership. It is the combined work of 70 conservationists, scientists, wildlife health experts and wildlife authorities, protected area managers donors from the six countries in the region.
103 wild tigers were counted in Bhutan this year – a huge jump from the previous estimate of just 75.
The survey was conducted by Bhutanese scientists and spanned habitats from snowy mountains in the north to subtropical forests in the south. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked closely with the Bhutan government to provide funds and technical support. The tigers were identified by their stripes, which, like human fingerprints, are unique to each animal.
“This is a critical milestone in the global effort to save tigers. Bhutan is one of only 13 tiger range countries, and knowing how many tigers exist is the first step towards effectively protecting them. We applaud Bhutan’s efforts to set this tiger population baseline.”
Like Bhutan, other countries have performed national tiger surveys with India, Russia and Nepal reporting higher numbers than previous estimates. Bangladesh reported lower numbers in its first national survey and Malaysia reported a drastic drop from 500 in 2010 to as few as 250. The numbers for tigers in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar are unknown.
Poaching and habitat loss are the major threats to remaining wild tigers in Southeast Asian countries. There could be as few as 3,200 left in the wild and counting them is the first step in protecting and conserving these majestic big cats. Although surveys are expensive, labor intensive and often in difficult climate and weather conditions, the results are more than worthwhile.
In 2007, the Amur leopard population dropped to just 40 adults – a dangerously low number that indicated they were on the edge of extinction.
But according to a 2014 census, the population appears to have doubled as 80 or more leopards were counted, with some even repopulating part of its historic range in China. The census was conducted over two years by federal nature reserve Land of the Leopard National Park, located on Russia’s far southeastern border shared with China. Using cameras, researchers were able to analyze and identify individual leopards.
The Amur leopard is a subspecies of the well-known leopard of the African savannas, who is adapted to a cold and snowy climate. It was once native to a wide range of eastern China, eastern Russia and the Korean Peninsula.
But poaching and habitat loss have drastically decreased the species’ numbers in the 20th century. By 1996, the IUCN Red List declared the Amur leopard critically endangered, as they were extinct from the Koreas, functionally extinct in China and existed in only small numbers Russia.
But this recent rise in the leopard’s numbers is a testament to Russia’s commitment over the last few years to saving the animal from extinction. In 2012, the Russian government created the Land of the Leopard National Park by combining three other smaller protected areas with a nearby unprotected land. It’s 1,011 square miles of forest habitat for Amur leopards and Siberian tigers, along with the deer and boar they prey on. Russia has also strengthened penalties for poaching.
Wildlife biologist collaborating with Russian scientists and conservationists in the region Jonathan Slaght says:
“There could in fact be 80, but more likely the number is a little bit less,” he said, because some leopards are likely to be moving between Russia and China and encountering the networks of camera traps on both sides of the border. What needs to happen, to evaluate that number of 80, is to join the Chinese data to the Russian data. It’s looking like both sides are willing to do one of these unified database analyses.”
There hasn’t been a wild gray wolf sighting in California since 1924. Until this year.
The wolves were spotted in August in the woods in the northern part of the state, near Mount Shasta, and consisted of two adults and five pups – believed to be only a few months old.
Officials learned of the pack, called the Shasta Pack, from cameras posted around the area after speculation of its existence. In May, nearby cameras captured images of a large, dark-colored animal that experts thought could be a wolf. And then in June, researchers studying a deer saw tracks from either a wolf or a dog.
“This news is exciting for California. We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”
Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in western U.S. They are now protected in California under the Endangered Species Act, which is contributing to the wolf’s slow rise in numbers. The presence of this Shasta Pack may indicate a comeback for gray wolves in California.
The mountain gazelle – found in Israel, Golan Heights, Turkey and across the Arabian Peninsula – is now endangered. Or at least it should be, according to scientists who counted just 2,000 of the species after a drastic drop over the last 15 years.
Zoologists are recommending that this iconic mammal of the Middle East should be placed on the endangered list for protection. They fear that the tan, white and black gazelles could end up extinct like their closest relatives who once lived in Egypt and Syria.
“The damage to the gazelle population stems from the chopping up of their habitats due to construction, paving of roads and erection of fences. They are also impacted by increased predation due to poor sanitation that facilitates growth in the number of predators and feral dogs. Animals are also killed by hunters and cars. It is therefore vital to maintain contiguous open areas and ecological corridors, especially in gazelle habitats. Unnecessary development in these areas should be avoided.”
This specific gazelle species is significant because it is thought to be unique to Israel and a few surrounding countries. According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the gazelle population in Israel declined from over 10,000 to just 3,000 in 2008 alone, a rapid decline that seems to be persistent. Moreover, only 200 of the gazelles are left in Turkey, leaving the population in Israel as the last significant one.
After the latest count, the IUCN reevaluated the gazelle, changing its status from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”
The eastern cougar is being removed from the list of endangered species and added to the list of those extinct. After a four-year review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has confirmed the animal’s extinction.
Eastern cougars, which averaged six to eight feet long and 105 to 140 pounds, were a subspecies of North American cougars. They were once found all over the continent, from Canada to South Carolina, but with their recent extinction, they no longer need federal protections from the Endangered Species Act.
USFWS launched an extensive investigation into the status of eastern cougars in 2011, which included information from 21 states and Eastern Canadian provinces, as well as hundreds of sighting reports dating back to 1900. The agency found that today’s infrequent cougar sightings in the eastern U.S. were likely members of the species that wandered to Florida from the west or were released from captivity.
Eastern cougars were originally declared endangered in 1973, but the beginning of their demise dates back as far as the 1800s when European immigrants arrived and killed the predators to protect themselves and their livestock. The population decline is also linked to past destruction of forests, which drove the cougar’s main prey, the white-tailed deer, to near extinction.
Cougars in general – also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers – used to be the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere. But extermination campaigns diminished the population and reduced its range to approximately two-thirds of the original distribution. In the U.S., The only remaining breeding population of cougars east of the Mississippi river is the Florida panther.