Climate Change’s Latest Victim Is The Already Endangered Snow Leopard – The Himalayan Predator About To Go Extinct?

Alap Naik Desai

The snow leopard is the latest species to be threatened by climate change. The rapidly warming climate is increasingly melting the ice at the Himalayas, shrinking the habitat of the magnificent creature. Despite best conservation efforts, the snow leopard may soon go extinct, fears World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF.

The snow leopard may soon go extinct, indicates a new report compiled by the WWF. The report, titled "Fragile Connections," attempts to show how snow leopards are being increasingly threatened by human beings who have severely affected the global climate and its natural resources that are vital for the survival of animals. The report highlights the big cat's losing fight for survival in the quickly altering environment.

Worryingly, along with erosion of snow leopard's habitat, climate change is also threatening the region that is the source of clean drinking water for a large part of Asia, said biologist Rishi Kumar Sharma, who is leading the WWF Global Snow Leopard project.

"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."

As snow recedes, farmers and shepherds will start exploiting the freshly available land high up in the mountains, thereby further shrinking the habitat of the snow leopard, besides threatening the creature with imminent death either due to starvation or by a bullet by those trying to protect their assets. Besides these threats, the snow leopard has always been a prime target for poachers, as the elusive creature's body parts are in high demand for their perceived medicinal properties in many Asian countries. Climate change has already begun worsening the threats and has ensured the number of snow leopards may not be enough to ensure the species survives.

Less than 4,000 snow leopards exist in the world today. Their sole habitat in the high mountains of central Asia is now under the most severe of threats from climate change, reported MSN. Unless radical measures aren't taken quickly to check the release of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, over a third of the animal's habitat could vanish, leaving the snow leopard hungry, exposed, and desperate for survival. There have been many instances in which other members of the big cat family have been forced to search for sustenance in human settlements, which has resulted in their brutal deaths at the hands of panicked people.

It's reassuring to know that all is not over yet, said Sami Tornikoski, head of a separate project by the fund to protect the natural diversity of the Himalayas.

"India, Nepal and Bhutan have proven that it's possible to increase the number of iconic species like tigers and rhinos. Together governments, conservationists and communities can achieve similar successes with snow leopards and drag them back from the brink."

With just 14 percent of the snow leopard's habitat protected by conservation laws, a lot is needed to even partially negate the effects of climate change.

[Photo By Tom Brakefield / Getty Images]