Hundreds of snow leopards are killed every year by poachers, a new report has found.
The report from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates between 220 and 450 of the big cats have been killed annually since 2008. This works out as roughly four every week, and that number could be higher, as many killings in remote areas are never reported.
In the past 16 years, the number of snow leopards in the wild has fallen by a fifth – only 4,000 are estimated to be left. Most of the surviving snow leopards now live in zoos (such as the ones pictured in this article) or in protected conservation areas.
The wild animals are mostly killed by local people in retaliation for eaten livestock. The cats' pelts, bones, and teeth are also lucrative – and the report notes the trade is moving online to evade detection. Although just over 20% of snow leopards are poached specifically with the intention to sell, the report notes over half of the retaliatory kills end up as opportunistic sales.
Russia and China are the largest markets for the cats' bodies, but the report found demand in China had dramatically dropped in recent years.
Known as the "ghosts of the mountains", snow leopards live between 1,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level.
The animals are also being harmed by global warming, as their natural habitat disappears as the planet heats up.