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Hundreds Of Snow Leopards Are Being Killed Every Year

The animals are killed by poachers or farmers in retaliation for eaten livestock.

Posted on October 21, 2016, at 7:08 a.m. ET

Slavek Ruta / Slavek Ruta/REX/Shutterstock

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.

Lucas Dawson / Getty Images
Chris Mcgrath / Getty Images

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.

Massoud Hossaini / AP

Known as the "ghosts of the mountains", snow leopards live between 1,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level.

Slavek Ruta / Slavek Ruta/REX/Shutterstock

The animals are also being harmed by global warming, as their natural habitat disappears as the planet heats up.

They are fearsome hunters, capable of bringing down animals three times their weight.

Peter Jolly / Peter Jolly/REX/Shutterstock

But snow leopards' diet mostly consists of mountain sheep or blue ibex – bringing them into conflict with farmers who rely on those animals for their own income and survival.

Getty Images

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.