The Illegal Trade in Snow Leopards
A Global Perspective
The report "The Illegal Trade in Snow Leopards - A Global Perspective" as PDF-File (218 KB)
2. Snow Leopard Conservation Measures by the CMS and CBD
3. The Central Asian Dimension
16. Western Consumer Markets
17. Analysis of Markets and Prices
This report is by Birga Dexel
Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU)
German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU)
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The snow leopard (Uncia uncia) was listed by the CITES Parties in 1975 on Appendix I. Since then cross-border trade has become an ever increasing threat to snow leopards, but no further measures have been taken in the framework of the convention to stop the on-going illegal trade in live specimen, parts and derivatives. Many range countries did not become a party to CITES till the late 1990s and some have not joined at all. The species is fully protected in every range country under the respective national laws and hunting as well as the trade in live specimen and parts is prohibited. All range countries with the exception of Bhutan have difficulties in enforcing these provisions.
The national and international trade in live specimen, skins and bones is, according to the global network of snow leopard experts (SLN), the major threat to the survival of the species, particularly in Central Asia. (SLSS 2002).
This report is the first of its kind to assimilate the somewhat scarce information available, and to provide the Parties with evidence on the existence of this trade which, if no comprehensive measures are implemented as a matter of urgency, will lead to the extinction of this unique species. It also presents new trade data derived from investigations by the Kirghiz snow leopard enforcement group, Gruppa Bars, which is part of the joint Snow Leopard Conservation Programme of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU).
The snow leopard is one of the least studied mammals of the world and it is a bio-indicator for the integrity of the high mountain ecosystems it inhabits. Its plight in the United Nations Year of the Mountains 2002, deserves the full attention of the international community.
The global snow leopard population is estimated by experts to number between 3,350 and 7,000 specimen in the wild (Fox 1994; Nowell and Jackson 1996). Additionally, around 600 animals are part of the ex-situ conservation efforts of zoos and an unknown number are kept in private hands outside the zoo exchange breeding programmes.
Historically, snow leopards inhabit the mountains of Central Asia, with core areas in the Altay, Tien Shan, Kun Lun, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalaya ranges. The total area of suitable habitat within the region is approximately 1,230,000 km2. (SLSS 2002) Range countries are, in alphabetical order, Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan.
2. Snow Leopard
Conservation Measures by the CMS and CBD
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The snow leopard was listed in Appendix I in 1985, thus indicating reliable evidence of its endangerment as a species throughout all or a significant portion of its range. States that are party to the Convention must (1) conserve and restore the snow leopard"s habitats; (2) prevent, remove, compensate or minimize any obstacles which might seriously impede its migration, and (3) prevent, reduce or control factors that are endangering or are likely to further endanger the species. Uncia uncia was declared a concerted action species under the CMS Convention at the COP in Bonn in September 2002. CITES and the CMS have recently signed a MOU, herewith formalising and strengthening their co-operation.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The conservation of snow leopards and remedial measures have been included in some National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans of range states. The immense threat to the survival of the species in the wild by the illegal trade in live specimen, pelts, and bones has, with few exceptions, not been addressed.
3. The Central Asian Dimension
With the break-up of the former USSR and the independence of the Central Asian Republics, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan , the poaching of snow leopards and of other endangered species to supply international markets has increased significantly and trade in snow leopard skins has been widely reported. (Koshkarev 1994, Loginov and Loginov 1995, Anon. 1996) A major problem for endangered fauna of the former USSR is that the pace of decline in their numbers is so rapid that there seems to be insufficient time to establish an improved socio-economic system before many species are totally eliminated from their home ranges. (Braden)
Kyrgyzstan, the country which was once home to the second largest snow leopard population in the world, might have lost 50-80% of its former population (Dexel 1999). The numbers in the other three Republics have been reduced to supply the skin trade and the demand for live animals and bones. In the last decade evidence suggests that bones are being traded presumably as substitutes for tiger bones in order to supply the markets for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Even though part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Central Asian countries have become less dependent on Russian trade and have instead increased their trade and intensified their relations with the Peoples Republic of China.
The Evolution of the Trade in Central Asia
The historical trade in snow leopards throughout Central Asia used to concentrate on pelts and live specimen. The earliest registered trade in snow leopard skins dates back to 1884. Kyrgyzstan was the main producer country for snow leopard skins followed by Tadjikistan, Kazahkstan and Mongolia. Between 1884 and 1905, a minimum of 954 skins came onto the markets from the Pzewalsk region and Pischpek in Kyrgyzstan (= 90%) and the Dsharkent region in Kazahkstan (=10%) which averages 50 skins annually. (Heptner 1980) The first data available on the global trade dates back to 1907. The world-wide trade in skins ran to between 500 and 1000 skins a year till the 1920s. (Heptner 1980)
From the beginning of the 19th century onwards, live specimen were being caught in Kyrgyzstan for export to Europe and America as well as for the zoological gardens of the former Soviet Union. Even though the species was named in 1779 it wasn"t until 1872, nearly another 100 years later, that the first specimen was exhibited in Moscow Zoo. Two young snow leopards were send for this purpose from Turkestan (Heptner 1980s). Each year, a couple of dozens animals were captured alive mainly in Kyrgyzstan and Tadjikistan. In the 1940s and 1950s, 375 live snow leopards were trapped in the Przewalsk region of Kyrgyzstan. In the Issyk-Kul region of Krygysztan, 50 specimen were trapped in three years in the 1950s alone (Berens 1957) and 14 were captured in the first half of 1958 in Kyrgyzstan. In Tadjikistan animals were trapped in East Pamir and 50 animals were sold during the 1950s, in some years ten specimen annually. (Heptner 1980) Between 1963 and 1967, 64 snow leopards were captured. (Freeman 1980) In 1979, two males were wild-caught in Kyrgyzstan. (Blomqvist 1980). Interest in the animal remained consistently high due to the fact that wild-caught snow leopards had a high mortality rate and a very short life expectancy in zoos with many dying shortly after arrival.
The trade in live specimen mainly supplied zoos around the world. More than 90% of the founder generation of snow leopards of the international zoo breeding programmes came from Kyrgyzstan. Intense efforts among the zoos to enhance the survival rate and breeding success of snow leopards in captivity deemed further supply of wild specimen from the 1980s onwards unnecessary.
Live specimen were also sought after by private collectors. Additionally, wild caught snow leopards were and in some cases still are given as presents between heads of states. In May 1993, the Bejing Zoo received a pair of under 1 year old wild-caught snow leopards cubs from A. Akaev, the President of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, as a gift when he visited China. (Bangjie et al 1994) Even though the capture and trade in live specimen continues on a small scale in Kyrgyzstan, this trade segment no longer poses the most significant threat.
The trade in skins is undertaken on a far greater scale. Pelts are used to make fur coats, hats and other clothing items but are also traditionally used in Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and the Xingjiang Province in China as decorative wall mountings. Leopard skins are also displayed during festive activities such as the 3000 year anniversary of the foundation of the southern Kirghiz city of Osh in 2000. During his inauguration, President N. Nazarbayev of Kazahkstan appeared in public wearing a traditional Kazakh coat with a snow leopard fur collar. (TRAFFIC 1998) And newspapers in Kazakhstan announced in 2001 that A. Akaev had presented his Kazakh counterpart with a snow leopard pelt for his sixtieth birthday. (pers. comm. Lenk 2001)
Population estimate: Annenkov (1990) reported about 65 to 70 snow leopards in a 8,200 km2 area, giving a mean density of 0.83 individuals per 100 km2. (CMS 2002) Kirghiz snow leopard experts believe the number of snow leopards in the border region with Kyrgyzstan to number less than 20. (pers. comm. NABU Tien Shan 2002)
Kazahkstan is the only newly independent republic where trade in snow leopard bones has been reported to occur (Bo 2002, SLSS Trade Session 2002, Seattle). Bo states that between 6 and 10 snow leopards are poached annually ( Bo 2002) with no seizures or arrests taking place in the last ten years (pers. comm. CITES Kazakh Management Authority). There have been reports that several snow leopard skins were sold in the former capital of Almaty to foreigners in the first half of the 1990s. In 1993, local newspapers published private sale advertisements for snow leopard skins and in 1994-95, 10 skins were sold for between US $3,000 and $7,000. (TRAFFIC 1998)
Informants notified Kirghiz investigators that two Kazakh citizens had travelled to Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2002 in search of live snow leopards offering US $25,000 for one animal.
Population estimate: Koshkariov (1989) mapped snow leopard occurrence over much of its range in Kyrgyzstan, recording 20 inhabited areas (totaling 6,554 km2 ), with an estimated population of 113 to 157 animals. Estimated density ranged between 0.8 and 4.7 animals per 100 km2, averaging 2.4 animals. (SLSS 2002) With nearly 66,000 km² of potential habitat in the country, a conservative estimate of 660 snow leopards (1 per km²) were likely present in 1990. Due to the high level of poaching in the course of the 1990s the population has decreased significantly, some experts believe by as much as 50 to 80 percent, but no reliable national population estimate is available at present. (Dexel 2001)
The hunting of snow leopard has been forbidden in Kyrgyzstan since the 1950s. During Soviet times, only certified staff members of the so-called "Zoocombinat" were allowed to catch live snow leopards for export to zoological institutions around the world. Between 1936 and 1988, 420 snow leopards were caught. (Aleyne 1996) Shortly after the country"s independence the Zoocombinat was dissolved and the official commercial export of specimen seized.
In 1999, the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU) signed a bi-lateral agreement with the Ministry of Environment for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan on a comprehensive joint snow leopard conservation programme. The contract was extended in September 2001 for ten more years. The programme involves a joint anti-poaching team (Gruppa Bars) as well as environmental education, research, and eco-tourism.
NABU was the first organization to become actively involved in the conservation of the species in Kyrgyzstan following the depletion of numbers that had apparently occurred during the 1990s.
Trade in Skins
According to Koshkariov, snow leopard skins were once traded for the equivalent of one horse or five domestic sheep, but this has changed dramatically. Depending on location snow leopard skins could be obtained during the winter of 1993-94 for a price equal to between US $500 and $2000. He personally observed 12 snow leopard skins being offered for sale by a trader during the winter of 1994 in the village of Pokrovka (now called Kyzyl-Su). They had been trapped along the northern slope of the Terskei Alatau. Another ten snow leopard skins, which were trapped in the winter of 1993 / 94, were discovered on sale through a dealer in Karakol. Koshkariov concluded that probably half the original population had already been poached by the mid-nineties (Koshkariov 1994).
Arrests and Seizures by the Snow Leopard Enforcement Team - Gruppa Bars
The following accounts are the result of undercover-investigations by the Snow Leopard Enforcement Group - Gruppa Bars. In most of the operations, foreigners, who posed as potential buyers, were involved.
In 1998, two women were arrested in Belowodskoje trying to sell 2 snow leopard skins for US $800. In October 1999, one man was arrested in the capital of Bishkek for attempting to sell through an intermediary a skin with skull for US $1000. In September 2000, a man was arrested in Sokuluk, trying to sell a well-tanned skin with skull for US $800. In December 2000, one man was arrested for trying to sell an injured, ageing snow leopard for US $6000. In February 2001, two women were arrested in the Dostuk Hotel in Bishkek for trying to sell a skin with skull for US $1000. A few days later, one female shop owner was arrested in her souvenir shop in the Pinara Hotel in Bishkek for offering a skin for US $350. Again, in February 2001, the Manas Airport veterinarian was arrested for trying to sell a freshly killed snow leopard skin complete with blood and flesh for US $1000. He had wanted extra cash for the skull. In June 2001, a student of the Polytechnical Institut of Bishkek was arrested for trying to sell an old skin with skull for US $900. In September 2001, a male resident of the Issyk-Kul region was arrested in the Hotel Hyatt in Bishkek for attempting to sell two snow leopard skins for US $500 each. In December 2001, one man was arrested in Bishkek for trying to sell one skin with skull for US $1000. In February 2002, one man was arrested for selling one snow leopard skin for US $1500. In April 2002, two members of the Secret Service were arrested for trying to sell two badly injured live snow leopards for US $22,000 in Bishkek.
Between 1999 and 2002, the Kirghiz Gruppa Bars confiscated 3 live snow leopard cubs and 16 Snow Leopard skins. 110 poachers and traders were arrested, 162 arms confiscated and 232 gin traps, 119 ordinary snares and 79 snares specifically designed for snow leopards were destroyed. The arrests and undercover investigations into the trade revealed the existence of organised, i.e. meaning the involvement of a network partly operating by orders of clients, along with unorganised, meaning opportunistic, trade structures in Kyrgyzstan. The organised trade segment has cross-border links east to China and north-west via Kazahkstan to Russia. Organised trade networks consist of several members who deal with endangered species and have a network of local hunters working for them. Trade with China is also conducted by the Kirghiz minority group of Uighurs living in Kyrgyzstan and across the border in the Xinjiang province of Western China. TRAFFIC found further evidence in 1998 of an illegal trade in snow leopard skins at the Kyrgyzstan-China border.
The prices for skins with skulls range from US $500 to $1500; live snow leopards are offered for between US$ 5,000 and $11,000 per animal. There is no information available on whether bones are also traded.
Population estimate: Sokov (1990) estimates the number at about 200 to 300, significantly higher than previous estimates.(CMS 2002)
Trade in Skins
In Tadjikistan, trade has been reported in snow leopard and Tien Shan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) skins. In the spring of 1995, 1 snow leopard skin was reported traded in a town market for between US $300 and $400. In the same year 10 snow leopard skins were confiscated at the border by customs officers. (TRAFFIC 1998) In the Pamiro-Altai, the local Kirghiz population kills up to 7 snow leopards annually and sells them to foreigners (pers. comm. Kasirov 2001).
Trade in Live Animals
On 10 December 2000, the Kirghiz anti-poaching unit Gruppa Bars confiscated a badly injured 6-month old female snow leopard, which had been caught according to the arrested traders in the Pamir Mountains in June 2000.
Snow Leopard Hunting
A Moscow based hunting company has offered snow leopard hunts on the World Wide Web. Included on their web site is a photograph of a local hunter with a dead snow leopard around his neck. The photograph is believed to have been taken in the Balankiik valley of the Pamir mountains in Tadjiskistan. The cost is US $7,520 per cat including a CITES permit. The hunt was supposed to take place either in the second half of October or the end of March/ the beginning of April. (www.safari.ru/nem/29.htm)
Population estimate: The status of the snow leopard population is not known precisely, assessments vary from 20-50 specimen in an area of 7,350 km². (CMS 2002)
Historically, 29 furs were traded from Uzbekistan between 1951 and 1959. Despite having a fairly small population, Volozheninov stated in 1986 that as many as 10 individuals were reported killed or captured annually (quoted in Espinov 1995).
The Uzbek government confiscated one fur in 1990 which was believed to have originated in Kazahkstan (pers. comm. Mukhina.- Kreuzberg 2002)
In 1998, State Game inspectors interviewed by TRAFFIC mentioned that local people hunt Tien Shan Brown Bear and snow leopard for the pelts, which they sell to foreigners. (TRAFFIC 1998)
Population estimate: The population is estimated to be about 1,400 specimen (Fox 1989a), but this data excludes Sichuan and the potentially significant populations of Tibet. Estimates for Tibet and Sichuan Province are not presently available. The total Chinese population is estimated to be somewhere in the region of between 2,000 to 2,500 animals. A recent survey in Inner Mongolia indicates the species to be on the brink of extinction. (SLSS 2002).
China is home to the largest snow leopard population but the evidence suggests that it is also the biggest market for snow leopard skins, bones, and probably live specimen. Even the use and trade of snow leopard meat has been reported. Pelts, bones and live animals on the Chinese market do seem to originate not only from China but also from the neighbouring Central Asian (Unep/WCMC) countries as well as Nepal, India and Pakistan.
Trade in Skins
Skins are being smuggled into China, but also originate from native snow leopards. Novelty furs have been seen on sale throughout China and Taiwan (Anon. 1987e, Low 1991, Jackson 1992, Fox 1994).
The Markets of Xingjiang and Kashgar
There are reports of snow leopard skins being on sale throughout China however the city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region seems to be growing as a centre for the skin trade in western China. Travellers to Kashgar report that dozens of snow leopard pelts were on sale in Kashgar bazaars. According to Bo, 20-30 snow leopards are poached in the Uighur Region annually. The other furs on sale in Kashgar have most likely originated from the Central Asian Republics. Bo states that the hunting of snow leopards by herders has increased in Xingjiang due to market demand. Snow leopard skins can easily and openly be obtained in Xinjiang and prices of US $1,000 for one fur are quoted (pers. comm. Thevs 2002).
In 1993, two Oxford University students were found buying snow leopard pelts in a bazaar in Kashgar for only US $100 (Tar 1993) and in 1996, a German mountaineer found between 5 and 10 snow leopard pelts in a shop in the market of Kashgar. The shop was chosen at random, and the mountaineer reported that it was unlikely to be the only one offering such items. (Anon. 1996) In 1999, a traveller informed NABU of snow leopard skins being sold in the shop of the Kashgar Arts and Craft Company in Kashgar. The shop assistant stated that the furs were particularly popular with Japanese buyers. (pers. comm. Meyer 1997) Further information on the availability of snow leopard furs at a bazaar in Kashgar was given by two German tour guides who spend time in the region on a regular basis. (pers.comm.. 2000 and 2002).
In October 2001, the police in Akesu arrested a herdsman in Tahelahe for trapping and killing a snow leopard. He was subsequently sentenced to ten years imprisonment. The man had trapped the snow leopard inside the Tuomur Mountain Nature Reserve. In Xinjiang Tekesi county, a Khazk herder caught two snow leopards on January 28 and Feb. 4, 2002. He was subsequently arrested by the Yili Forestry Police on March 17. (Bo 2002)
In 1984, a gang of 12 miners from Tianzun county were apprehended . In the 12 years from 1972 to 1984 they hunted down some 28 snow leopards, including 15 adults, six sub-adults, and seven young (under one year) animals. The poaching took place at Sule village, Tianzun county.
From February to May 1983, eight people killed 18 snow leopards and captured another young one in the mountains near the Goulli village, Dulan county in central Qinghai. The young animal died shortly after capture. All were sold to purchasing agents. According to Yanfa and Bangjie, all these cases of poaching occurred in the vicinity of mines. (Yanfa & Bangjie 1988). The official statistics of Qinghai province show "that from 1988-1995 sixty snow leopards were reportedly killed. In Februay 25, 1990, five villagers from Huangzhong County killed 14 snow leopards at Kekexili. According to Qinghai Forestry Bureau, since 1990 more than 100 snow leopards have been poached in the province alone". (Bo 2002) Bangjie et al reported in 1988 a rapid decline of snow leopard resources at Xiugou in central Qinghai. In June 1990, Xining police in Qinghai Province confiscated 40 snow leopard pelts stored at a taxidermist"s house. (Bo 2002).
Harris reported that in August 1989 local people in Nangqian county tried to sell a young snow leopard they had captured. The asking price was 1300 yuan. The animal died before they could find a buyer. In November 1990, a Tibetan semi-nomadic herdsman captured a cub that he had sold for 600 yuan to a researcher who subsequently radio-collared the animal before releasing it. (Harris 1994) Harris states that the value of snow leopards in the marketplace is well known to the local people. In addition to about 300-500 yuan - the potential price from the sale of an adult pelt - the bones can also be sold for about 600 to 800 yuan / kg (Harris 1994)
In August 1996, Maxin County officers arrested two poachers and confiscated a snow leopard pelt. (Bo 2002) In November 2001, two snow leopard cub pelts were sold in Xining Station Commercial Building. According to Bo, "Songpan County and Jiuzaigou are two major collection points for snow leopard pelts from Qinghai, Gangsu, Ningxia and adjacent areas. An investigation conducted by the author in 1998 revealed more than 20 snow leopard pelts sold in Songpan county and 5 in Jiuzaigou. Songpan is well known as a hub for wildlife traders". (Bo 2002)
In 2000, while travelling by road on her way from Songpan to the Jiürüimu National Park, a German traveller saw little market booths with 10 snow leopard furs openly on sale. The sellers told her that the furs were popular with Japanese buyers. (pers. comm. Lichtenberg 2000).
Autonomous Region of Tibet
Many reports cite the widespread existence of illegal commercial hunting of wildlife by organised criminal gangs. The last two leaders of the Chinese anti-poaching team in the Autonomous Region of Tibet have been murdered (Cook et al 2002).
The region has a certain tradition in the hunting and trade of snow leopards. Snow leopards were killed until the 1990s as part of predator control programmes instigated by the authorities in the districts of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Herders and farmers were offered cash for snow leopard pelts. Ammunition was freely distributed or sold at heavily subsidised rates. Funding for the programme accrued in part from the sales of raw or tanned furs for the manufacture of snow leopard fur coats. But pelts were increasingly sold on the black market where higher prices were obtained. One official estimated that less than 30% of the pelts of snow leopards and other cats were being turned over to the bureau managing the programme. (Miller and Jackson 1994)
Snow leopards skins are openly on sale in the market of Lhasa (www.tewa.org) and a representative of Fauna and Flora International (FFI) saw between 5 and 10 snow leopard skins for sale while travelling the Tibetan Plateau in 2000 (pers. comm. FFI 2000). Jackson stated that a snow leopard skin is worth US $9 to $18 Dollars (50-100 Yuan) to a poor villager (Jackson et al 1992). Rare animal skins, which could include snow leopards, are openly traded in Labrang, Amdo (Qinghai) without any legal penalties imposed on the hunters. (Anon 2002; www.tew.org/wildlife/wildlife.threats.html)
Two snow leopards were killed by a Tibetan nomad with a steal trap, after Chinese traders had inquired about the availability of snow leopard skins. After being killed the skins were sold for 500 yuan - equal to the value of two young yaks. (Anon 2002) www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/nomads/chapter11.htm
Bejing and Eastern China
Johnson and Yu 1996 reported the trading of snow leopard skins from Bejing and Bo identified a snow leopard pelt in 1996 which was sold at a fur store near the city"s Capital Palace Hotel. The shop assistant admitted the 6000RMB bed/sofa cover came from a snow leopard pelt but claimed to be unaware that the sale was illegal. (Bo 2002)
Eastern China is also a market for snow leopard skins. A store manager in Tianjin on China"s east coast told TRAFFIC investigators that several wealthy customers from northeast and eastern China had previously purchased snow leopard skins to hang on their walls (Johnson and Yu 1996). In May 1999 17 snow leopard pelts collected from Hohhot, Shanghai and Funzhou in Lianjiang County of Fujian Province were confiscated. Dealers in eastern China are mostly middle-men who again sell the pelts to Taiwan. The majority of wildlife skin trade emanates from mainland China. In 1989, Kristin identified a taxidermist in Taipei who dealt in snow leopard skins. (Bo 2002)
Trade in Live Specimen
The trade in live specimen seems to occur on behalf of zoos, private collections both inside and outside of China, and also for circuses and as gifts during state visits.
Trade in Live Specimen for Zoos
Nearly all snow leopards kept by Chinese zoos are wild-caught. This practice is illegal. If a buyer cannot be found the animals will be killed and sold for skin and bone. (Yanfa & Bangjie 1988) According to Bo, most Chinese zoos would still be prepared to accept or buy snow leopards if caught alive. In March 1997, a snow leopard was reportedly rescued from a water reservoir. Instead of being released the animal was given to Urumqi Zoo. (Bo 2002) Part of the problem is the low reproductivity of snow leopards in Chinese zoos, a problem which has been completely resolved in Europe and the USA. The first successful breeding of snow leopards took place in the 90s when two cubs were born in Bejing Zoo. In 2002, NABU received a letter from a Bejing zoologist asking for support in finding a suitable male for two wild-caught females. (pers. comm. 2002 )
Trade in Live Specimen for Circuses
Even though there is only one historical case known where snow leopards have performed in a Circus, a ranger in Krygyzstan told NABU investigators in 1999 that the Chinese had travelled to Kyrgyzstan repeatedly on behalf of Chinese circuses to buy snow leopards.
Trade in Bones
In China, snow leopard bones are much in demand for their medicinal use, and probably represent their primary indigenous value today (Schell 1982, Yanfa & Bangjie 1988). Leopard bone has been used for some time as a substitute for tiger bone in the manufacture of drug wine which sells far and wide in China and Southeast Asia. The poaching of snow leopards in China is therefore closely connected with this business ( Liao Yanfa & Tan Bangjie 1988).
Rodney Jackson has described how a Chinese engineer bought the remains of a snow leopard in Tibet and took them away in his truck for sale. (Jackson 1991). Traders will pay up to US- $190 for a snow leopard skeleton in Tibet (Jackson et al.1994). Much of China"s supply of snow leopard bones is thought to originate from the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding Himalayan Range. (Bajimaja et al 2001)
Trade in Snow Leopard Meat
It has also been reported that the meat of snow leopard has been served as an exotic dish in Sichuan. A news report reveals that in September 2000, a restaurant in Chengdu served snow leopard meals at 128 Yuan per dish. The restaurant staff insisted the meat was from a snow leopard caught in the wild. (Bo 2002)
A man was detained in Xining in China"s Northwest Qinghai Province after he was caught trying to sell two dead snow leopards to a beef shop in Sichuan province. He had bought the dead snow leopards at a local market and wanted to smuggle them to Deyang in Sichuan province. When police searched his apartment they also found dear heads, antlers, lynx and fox fur. (Anon.2000)
Population estimate: Snow leopards have reportedly been seen in the Altay and Sayan ranges bordering the People"s Republic of Mongolia. Smirnov et al. (1990) estimate that about 80 snow leopards reside in southern Siberia, including those animals that wander into Mongolian territory. The southern Siberian snow leopards are isolated from those of Central Asia. Sopin (1977) estimates mean densities at 0.75 to 1.5 snow leopards per 100 km2 in parts of the Altai Mountains, for a total population of about 40. (SLSS 2002)
Trade in Skins
The fur trade has expanded in Russia since the mid-1990s with large predator furs and skins as well as bear gall bladders being reportedly the most widely sold and exported wildlife products. (Peresvetowa). Moscow and the city of Kaliningrad have become a growing centre for the legal and illegal fur trade. Customers being both Russian and non-Russian. Snow leopard pelts sell on the black market for between US $5000 and $15,000. In April 2000, 2 snow leopard skins were offered to a team of undercover investigators by members of a Russian-Chinese wildlife crime syndicate (IFAW Press Release 13 April 2000). Since the 1990s, skins of Mongolian snow leopards periodically come onto the Russian market. At least ten skins come every winter through the boundary post Tashanta in the Altai Mountains, (data of Boundary and Customs Services). The prices for these skins are 4-5 times lower ($50) than the cheap ones from Russia ($200 - $250). (Koshkarev 2002)
Poaching for endangered species has increased dramatically with the lowering of protection standards. (Peresvetova). In the absence of effective enforcement mechanism, this trend will most likely continue.
Trade in Bones
There is no available information on bone trade from Russia and the sale of snow leopard bone appears to be unknown in the border region of Russia and Mongolia (Koshkariov 2002) which is home to snow leopards. However, medicinal wildlife exports from Russia to China have increased in quantity and have broadened to include a whole range of species. In addition to China, these products go primarily to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Macau.
An IFAW investigator saw a baby snow leopard used by a Moscow street photographer for tourists in 1997. (pers. comm. IFAW 1997)
Russian based companies are involved in offering illegal snow leopard hunts in the countries of the former Soviet Union. (Hofer 2002; see also Tadjikistan section)
Population estimate: The population is believed to number about 1,000 in an occupied range of about 103,000 km2. (SLSS 2002)
Trade in Skins
80 snow leopards were killed in 1908, 40 in 1927, and about 20 specimen annually from 1929-32, 10 in 1933, 40 in 1934, then 15 to 25 annually up to 1944. (Heptner 1980)
Stubbe stated in 1965 that hunting was still permitted annually in Mongolia between 16th of October and 28th of February . Snow leopards were usually caught by spring traps left near carrion or shot by hunters who happened on them by chance while hunting ibex. (Stubbe 1965). Hibbert estimated that in 1968 between 40 and 50 were killed.
Snow leopards are hunted for their furs in Mongolia primarily as decorative wall mounts in yurts. Or they are simply offered for sale. They have been seen in open display in yurts (pers. comm. Denzau 1997), and in the capital Ulan Bator (Reuters 2002). From 1992 to 1995, Mongolian customs and police confiscated 84 pelts (35% of these were old pelts) an average of twenty pelts per year. (Tserendeleg 1995) Trade in skins and body parts is expected to show an increase once law enforcement methods and documentation, currently very weak, improve. (Snow Leopard Management Plan of Mongolia 2000)
Snow Leopard Hunting
Mongolia is the only country which once had an official trophy hunting programme for snow leopards. Although the programme has been terminated, according to a hunting operator illegal trophy hunting of snow leopards still takes place.
In 1986, a trophy-hunting programme was carried out with a permitted quota of five snow leopards. These were considered problem animals believed to have been preying on local livestock. The trophy hunting fees for snow leopard in 1986 were US $11,200 per animal, and the first hunts were conducted successfully. A hunt for Gobi argali, ibex, and black-tailed gazelle were allowed in conjunction with a snow leopard hunt for an additional US $5,000. (O"Gara 1988 and Anon. 1987b)
In 1992, a German hunting party was reported to have official permission to hunt Marco Polo Sheep and snow leopards in the Pamir mountains. The illegal guided hunt for snow leopard and Marco Polo Sheep was available for US $4,000. Hunting of Marco Polo Sheep and snow leopards was carried out using military and state-owned helicopters. (TRAFFIC 1998)
In 2000, a female Spanish hunter was seriously injured while on an illegal hunt for snow leopard (pers. comm. hunting operator 2001). Reuter reported that 19-day safaris to hunt snow leopards were being offered to Americans at US $25,000 apiece and that pelts from snow leopards can be bought from local hunters for as little as US $25 apiece on the streets of Ulan Bator. (Reuters 2002)
Population estimate: The population was estimated at between 150 to 300 (Jackson 1979), a more recent estimate put the figure at between 350 to 500, based on computer modelling using a map-derived Habitat Suitability Index System (Jackson and Ahlborn 1990). Jackson and Ahlborn (1989) reported densities of 5 to 10 snow leopards per 100 km2 in the remote Langu Valley of west Nepal, slightly higher than estimated densities for Nar-Phu located north of Annapurna. (SlSS 2002)
Both trade in snow leopard skins and bones has been documented in Nepal. The Nepalese capital of Kathmandu is a known centre for the illegal trade in cat skins. The fur trade is in the hands of Kashmiri traders and furs were openly sold towards the end of the 1980s. In the wake of negative international publicity and pressure the trade appears to have moved underground but is, nevertheless, still in existence. Snow leopards are also being killed in retaliation for the loss of livestock. It is however unclear whether the skins and bones of these so called problem animals are fed into the trade.
Trade in Skins
The first comprehensive investigation into the illegal trade in cat furs in Kathmandu was undertaken by Barnes in 1988. He surveyed fur shops and found among other cat skins four long coats of snow leopard skins and 2 hats (Barnes 1989). In 1989, one investigator reported finding 12 snow leopard pelts, with one five-star hotel offering a fur-coat for US $3,000 (Bajimaja et al 2001). In 1992, van Gruisen and Sinclair did not see any snow leopard skins or other products, but were told of one shop where a large selection of snow leopard skins and coats were supposedly kept. Local residents reported having seen a snow leopard coat available for sale in a shop only a few weeks earlier and several traders spoke of them being available. (van Gruisen and Sinclair 1992). Another survey in 1993 found the number of fur shops had increased despite an apparent decline in fur demand. (Bajimaja et al 2001)
Barnes, Gruisen and Sinclair as well as Bajimaja et al recorded a significant number of Kashmiri traders in Kathmandu. Gruisen and Sinclair came to the conclusion that there was a strong likelihood that a number of the species sold might have originated in India. This assumption can further be supported by the fact that Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir are the centres for the Indian fur trade. Due to the political turmoil in these areas many Kashmiri have moved to Kathmandu but have upheld their business ties with their homeland. (van Gruisen and Sinclair 1992). Rai also highlights the existence of an organized wildlife trade route in place between India and Nepal. (Rai 2001)
Poaching of snow leopards for their skins has been documented since the start of international snow leopard conservation activities in the country in the 1970s. Jackson has stated that local hunters have received between US $10 and $50 for skins in Nepal, an amount comparable to the yearly cash income for these villagers. (Jackson 1979b) Poaching was further reported from Shey-Phoksundo and Makalu-Barun National Parks, as well as the Annapurna Conservation Area. (Kattel and Bajimaya 1995). Bajimaja et al state that hunters in Mugu District earned between $10 and $50 for a snow leopard pelt and that a furrier may get considerably more from selling a good quality coat which may require between 10 and 12 pelts for its manufacture. (Bajimaja et al 2001).
Trade in Bones
The bone trade, however, appears to be a more recent phenomenon. One possible explanation for this could be that traders are switching from tiger bone, which has become very rare, to the bones of other big cat species such as snow or clouded leopard. Even fake substitutes made from cow bones are used. (Bajimaja et al 2001, Nicolson-Lord 1997)
In northern Nepal, people have been known to trade snow leopard bones for sheep along the border with Tibet (Jackson 1992). The sale of bones offers poor mountain people an opportunity to generate a substantial income, especially in those places where enforcement is weak and penalties low. (Bajimaja et al 2001). From the Autonomous Region of Tibet, bones could easily make their way into mainland China and from there to the big trading centres of Shanghai and Beijing. Much of China"s supply of snow leopard bones is thought to originate from the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding Himalayan Range. (Bajimaja et al 2001)
Trade in Live Specimen
There is no hard evidence to show that there is a live trade in snow leopards from Nepal. However, given the seizures of a live common leopard and three clouded leopards in Kathmandu in 1995 and the subsequent discovery of an India-Nepal-Tibet trade route in live wildlife (Kumar 2002), this possibility should not be discounted.
Population estimate: Fox et al (1991) estimate that about 400 snow leopards reside within a 52,000 km2 area of northwestern India, with a nation-wide population of some 500 animals. This figure is derived using a mean density of one snow leopard per 110 km2 in good habitat along the southern slopes of the Himalaya (22,000 km2). These authors noted that small patches of prime habitat may support as many as one snow leopard per 15 km2. (SLSS 2002)
Trade in Skins and Bones
There is hardly any information available on the extent and nature of the trade in snow leopard products in and from India. Two big wildlife seizures in December 1999 and January 2000, which involved the confiscations of 7 tiger skins, 175 kg of tiger and other bones, 132 tiger claws, 120 leopard skins, 18,000 leopard claws, give an indication of the sheer volume of the trade in big cat products and "in many cases, illegal traders have been found in possession of other cat skins, including snow leopards" ( 5tigers 2002). The skins that were confiscated "were all of high quality and bore marks that appear to have been made during a selection process. This indicates that other, poorer quality skins, remain untraced" (CITES 2000). The CITES Secretariat states in a notification to the Parties in 2000, that "not only do these enforcement actions suggest the existence of an organized wildlife crime network in India, they also demonstrate the return of the illicit trade in animal skins that had apparently largely disappeared in the 1990s" (CITES 2000).
In the early 1980s snow leopards were valued at about US $3,350 in Srinagar, Kashmir, India (Osborne et al. 1983). A 1994 raid on a group of traders in Srinagar that hauled more than US $1 million worth of furs and garments made from 1,366 of the world"s most endangered wild cats including snow leopards indicated that the lack of effective measures to preserve endangered species had deteriorated further as a result of the long-lasting Kashmir conflict. (Anon. 2002 www.kewa.org/snow.html).
Trade in Problem Animals
The snow leopard is often killed because it is seen as a menace to livestock. (Chundawat et al 1988). Over the past 5 years, about 10 snow leopards are known to have been killed for taking livestock in central Ladakh, India (Mallon 1984). According to an Indian government delegate to the CMS in 2002, in a disturbing new trend herders are being paid to kill "problem animals" to supply the trade (pers. comm. CMS Councillor 2002).
Population estimate: No population estimate is available.
According to Norbu (1995) trade in snow leopards or their body-parts is virtually non-existent with a very low level of outside poaching. No other data is available.
Population estimate: The population is less than 250 animals according to Schaller (1976). Assuming a mean density of snow leopard per 250 km2, the total population for Pakistan would be no more than 300. (SLSS 2002)
Trade in Skins and Live Animals
Ahmad states that in towns such as "Gilgit, Murre and Karachi, potential buyers can easily get access to shops where fur of snow leopard and other protected cats are available for sale. Although it has been hard to identify the channels and sources which are used in the fur trade, from killing of animals to skinning and transporting them to market, the reported available quantities of fur clearly indicates a significant impact of this business on the snow leopard. Because of the lack of information, it is currently impossible to ascertain the number of animals which are killed by graziers to protect their livestock or by fur traders to earn money, although the former seems to be the more serious problem" (Ahmad 1994).
In 2001, a journalist was offered a snow leopard skin in Lahore at the Kashmir Art Gallery for Rs 15,000 (Pakistani). (Rai 2001)
Trade and War
The magnitude of snow leopard pelt trade is on the rise according to research by Pakistan conservationists. A development, which could be linked to the conflict between India and Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan since the habitat of the snow leopard in these border regions has come under severe stress. (Haider 2002) In 2002, a Peshawar-based group which dealt in the fur trade and which had sent a live snow leopard to Dubai was uncovered. (Haider 2002). A possible route for their traffic would be via Afghanistan, Russia and then by ship to the Arab Emirates and Dubai. The trader"s fee for the transaction would be in the region of US $1000 for a fur (pers. comm. Khan 2002)
Population estimate: No population estimate is available (Sayer 1980).
Trade in Skins
Afghanistan has a long tradition of trading in furs. According to a survey undertaken by Rodenburg as part of a UNDP/FAO mission in 1977, an estimated 50 to 80 snow leopards were shot annually before the Soviet invasion. From 3,000 to 4,000 professional hunters operated in the country with approximately 25,000 people being directly involved in the smuggling of furs to Pakistan, Europe (especially Italy) and North America. The survey found that only whole skins, including the skins of juveniles not more than a few months old, were on offer as well as two hats and two pairs of gloves made from badly damaged skins. (Adil 1995)
No matter who has been in power the trade in Afghanistan has never ceased. In 2001, an unprofessionally stuffed snow leopard was on sale for US $500 in a shop in Faizabad in northern Afghanistan. According to the shop owner the snow leopard had been caught in February 2001 by a spring trap baited with meat. He further stated that full-time leopard hunters operate in the Wakhan corridor, a slice of Afghan territory that stretches up to the Chinese border and that he expects another snow leopard in 2002. (Anon. 2001b). An investigation by Khan in 2001 into the trade in and from Afghanistan near the heavily bombed Tora Bora Taliban stronghold revealed that the pelt trade is on the rise. According to his informant Afghanistan is a safe haven for poachers while Kabul has become a lucrative market for pelts catering for the many westerners who are now present there. He further noted that according to eye-witnesses the frequent firing and bombardment in 2001 appeared to have forced wildlife including snow leopards and its prey species to come down to low lying areas, where they are often killed by hunters. (Khan 2002)
In 2002, the skull of a snow leopard was seen in a shop in Jalalabad. (Anon. 2002). There is still at present no ban in force against the hunting of snow leopards or most other wildlife. (Zahler and Graham 2001).
Links to the Drug Trade
The production and trade of drugs has for a long time been a concern to the international community and a problem for the security of the region. With the Taliban regime gone, this problem is far from over. Parallel to snow leopard being hunted and traded by refugees to buy a safe passage across the border (Pearce 2002), there could also be a link to the illegal drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
Cases from South America have shown that the illegal trafficking of wildlife is often run in concert with the drug trade. Parallel trafficking of drugs and wildlife along common smuggling routes is usual with the latter being the subsidiary trade. The use of wildlife shipments has been used to conceal drugs and wildlife species and products have been used as an alternative currency to "barter" for drugs. ( Cook et al 2002). In Brazil, for instance, forty percent of all illegal drugs shipments are combined with wildlife. (Cook et al 2002)
16. Western Consumer Markets
A few skins that were smuggled into the USA have been confiscated over the years. Skins, classified as Pre-Convention, were advertised in hunting magazines for US $9,000 (Anon. 1984). In 1986, an American tourist bought a snow leopard coat in China for about US $1,100. It was confiscated by customs upon arrival in the US(Jackson & Hillard 1986).
On 17 August 1995, a New Yorker was indicted for the retail marketing of snow leopards, which were apparently smuggled into the USA from Pakistan. In addition, to the snow leopards there were 2 snow leopard hides which on 13 March he tried to sell for US $ 8,000. During June and early July 1995, Zadran negotiated with FWS (US Fish & Wildlife Service) undercover agents to sell 4 snow leopard hides for US $15,000. (Anon. 1995).
In Germany, a ring of smugglers were arrested trying to smuggle snow leopard furs from the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator via Prague into Germany. (pers. comm. 2001 Battefeld). A man tried to auction a leopard skin with skull classified as a snow leopard skin via e-bay in September 2002. The man operating under the pseudonym of Huskymeyer wanted a minimum of 199 Euro for the skin. http://cgi.ebay.de/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?MfcISAPICommand=ViewItem&item=715001776
A live specimen which had been transported in a car from Kyrgyzstan via Yugoslavia, Turkey, Egypt, Morrocco and Spain was confiscated in the South of France (Sante Magazin in Sept. 2000, pers. comm. Bourneuf 2002)
Two snow leopard skins were offered for sale by Russians for 300 PLN in the Warsaw centre near the Cultural Palace in 1991. One Russian citizen tried to sell one skin in Sopot. In 1992 a hunter imported one skin from Mongolia and one hunting shop offered the head of a snow leopard (hunting trophy). (Wajrak 1994) According to one report from Bialowieza one Polish woman had been seen wearing snow leopard fur. (pers. comm.. Smielowsky 1997)
17. Analysis of Markets and Prices
No estimates, by the very nature of this trade, are available neither on the extent, nor on the value of the illegal trade in snow leopards. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that national and international trade takes place in live specimen, furs and items made from snow leopards. There is trade in bones and possibly also in meat. No research has been undertaken on the market availability of manufactured TCM products containing snow leopard bone.
Bhutan is the only one of the twelve range countries where the commercial trade in snow leopards is either non-existent or unrecorded. The skin trade has been recorded in the other remaining eleven range states. Bones are reportedly traded in China, Nepal, and Kazakhstan. Live animals have been traded in Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan and Tadjikistan. China is the only country to use skin, bones, and live animals as well as snow leopard meat. The live animals and other parts serve different market segments and it can be assumed that China is the biggest consumer of snow leopards. It is at the same time also home to the largest snow leopard population and drains national as well as international snow leopard populations to supply its markets.
Globally, the trade in wild fauna and flora is estimated to be worth US $159 billion a year. The rewards the illegal wildlife trade offers are very high and probably second only to the drug trade in terms of the potential levels of profit on offer. ( Cook et al 2002) According to a study of the University of Wolverton, "there is increasing evidence that more organised crime elements are becoming engaged in the most lucrative areas of the illegal wildlife trade. Existing smuggling routes used by serious organised crime groups for their trade in other illegal commodities (such as small arms, drugs and humans) can be readily used for additional profitable products - such as wildlife" ( Cook et al 2002).
In Central Asia and Russia, the pressure on wild snow leopard populations results from the combination of market demand for skins and live animal in conjunction with very weak enforcement regimes. The latter are not able to act as a deterrent to wildlife criminals but operate as a further incentive. With penalties being either low or non-existent and rewards high, more and more ordinary criminals are moving into the lucrative wildlife trade business. There is growing evidence of major organised crime group involvement in the wildlife trade in the countries of the former Soviet Union, where the added dimension of violence is clearly evident. (Cook et al 2002) At the same time, high unemployment causes further poaching of snow leopards and their prey species in the mountain areas they inhabit.
Retaliatory killing is not an issue for Central Asia. After the collapse of the USSR, numbers of domestic stocks have plummeted as a result of the dismantling of state agricultural holdings. Snow leopards are killed in Nepal, India, and Pakistan in retaliation for livestock loss by local herders. In India, herders are hired to kill so-called problem snow leopards, which are in turn subsequently fed back into the trade system. In India, the trade in animal skins, which was believed to have decreased in the 1990s, is blossoming with an obviously highly organised (poaching to production) network involved. In China, with the increasing demand for wildlife, people have rushed in recent years into the wildlife trade attracted by the lure of high profits. (Yang and Song).
There is only patchy information available on prices paid for pelts, bones and live animals.
Prices for skins vary across the range. They are highest in Russia, possibly due to very high demand, and lowest in Mongolia. Prices could also be an indicator of the level of organisation and the number of traders involved: the more links in a trade chain, the higher the price.
Prices of Skins
No information is available for skins from Bhutan and Uzbekistan. In China, depending on the location, prices vary between US $100 for two pelts (1993) and US $1,000 for one skin offered for sale in Kashgar (2002). In Qinghai, a figure of between 300 and 500 yuan was quoted for the sale of an adult pelt(1994). In the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2002, prices were quoted of 500 yuan (=US $63) for two pelts and US $9-$18 (50-100 Yuan) in 1992. In Pakistan, a fur was offered for sale for Rs 15,000 (Pakistani) in Lahore in 2001. In Nepal, local hunters were said to receive between US $10 and $50 for skins. In Mongolia in 2002, pelts are said to be available by local hunters for as little as $25 apiece on the streets of Ulan Bator. A similar figure was given from the Russian - Mongolian border where prices of US $50 for one fur were quoted. This compares with the price of Russian furs where the cheapest would cost between US $200 and $250. In Moscow, pelts are said to sell on the black market for between US $5,000 and $15,000 (2002). In Kazahkstan, skins sell for between US $300 and $700 in 1998 and in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan skins with skull sell for between US $800 and $1500. In Tadjikistan, one skin was traded in 1995 for US $500. In Pakistan, a trader receives US $1000 for one skin. In 2001, an unprofessionally stuffed snow leopard was on sale for US $500 in a shop in Faizabad, northern Afghanistan. In the USA, pre-Convention skins were offered for US $9,000 (1984), and in 1995 a trader tried to sell two hides for US
$8,000 and one other for US $15,000.
Prices of Coats
In the past, figures of US $60,000 have been quoted for one snow leopard coat in Europe and USA and possibly Japan. If prices of this magnitude were indeed paid in Russia or in the West then the profit margin for traders would be quite vast. Good quality coats are made of the winter pelt of the snow leopard and the number of skins used for one coat vary between 6 and 12 skins. In China in 1986, one fur coat was sold to an American tourist for US $1,100. In Nepal in 1989 one investigator reported finding one five-star hotel offering a fur-coat for $3,000.
Prices for Bones
Even less information is available on the price of snow leopard bone. Traders in the Autonomous Region of Tibet were said to pay US $190 for one skeleton (1994) and in other parts of China, the bones can be sold for about 600-800yuan/kg and can fetch more than US $300 on the black market (1994).
Prices of Live Specimen
In the Qinghai province 1300 yuan was charged for one live specimen in 1989 and another animal was sold for 600 yuan in 1990. In Kyrgyzstan, live snow leopards are offered for around between US $5,000 and $11,000.
Prices of Meat
In China, wild snow leopard meat sold by a restaurant in Chengdu cost 128 Yuan (=US $16 per dish (2000).
Prices for Hunts
In Mongolia in 2002, 19-days safaris were offered to Americans at $25,000 apiece. In 1992, a German hunting party was reported to have had permission to hunt Marco Polo Sheep and Snow Leopards in the Pamir mountains. The guided hunt on snow leopard and Marco Polo Sheep was available for US $4,000. In 1986, the trophy-hunting fee for snow leopards was US $11,200 per animal. In Tadjikistan in 2000 a Russian company offered snow leopard hunts for US $7,520 per animal.
Far too little information is available on the nature of the consumer markets for live animals, pelts, bones, meats, and hunts.
China and Russia seem to be, from the present available knowledge, the biggest markets for pelts. In China, pelts from western China and most likely Central Asia are sold to tourists in Xingjiang. According to the shop owners, it was the Japanese who were the main buyers. No information has however been obtained on whether there have been any seizures of snow leopard skins from tourists returning to Japan. The skins have also made their way to the industrial centres from where they are believed to have been sold nationally. Some have been sold to Taiwan and possibly Hong Kong. Through the Central Asian member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the skins can be easily moved to the markets in Moscow and Kaliningrad and from there via eastern Europe into the European Union. This route is known for the increasing large-scale smuggling of wildlife. (Reuters News Sevice 2002) Snow leopard furs were seen on sale in Warsaw in 1994. There was an arrest of smugglers who used the Eastern European route into Germany in 2000. Both these incidents provide further proof of the use of this route for the smuggling of snow leopard pelts. Pelts from Kyrgyzstan go westward to Russia and eastwards to China but according to several sources they also go to the United Arab Emirates and possibly to Turkey. According to the recent Study on the wildlife trade by the University of Wolverton, "the routes used by wildlife smugglers are often complex, making it difficult for the authorities to track and intercept shipments. Routes are also selected to take advantage of particular weaknesses and loopholes in the international trade control regime, either by using intermediate countries where controls are weakly enforced or not enacted at all, or by crossing borders where controls have been relaxed to encourage freer trade, as in the EU (Cook et al 2002) or in case of Central Asia, the CIS.
Bones of tigers and other big cats are being used by part of the TCM community and could be part of medication prescribed by TCM practitioners in Asia, Australia, USA and Europe. The main market however is most likely again China. With tiger bone resources becoming scarcer by the day, snow leopard bones might gain in importance.
The trade in live animals is mainly documented from Kyrgyzstan. From there, they are destined for China but possibly also the United Arab Emirates. Once in Pakistan, an animal was discovered being smuggled to Dubai.
The meat is being used in China and there was one report of meat also being used in Mongolia. The skulls of snow leopards are being used in religious rituals in India and Nepal.
The illegal hunting of snow leopards is available in Mongolia and via a Russian company in Tadjikistan.
Snow leopards are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the illegal trade in live specimen, parts, and derivatives. The trade in bone has broadened from the tiger to include other big cat species such as snow leopards. The highest-level action needs to be taken similar to that taken by the Parties in the past to save the tiger. As a matter of urgency, a high-level fact-finding mission should be formed and sent out to investigate the trade in the range and consumer countries.
Enforcement needs to be stepped up especially in Central Asia and China and cross-border initiatives such as that in the Altay region should be encouraged and funded.
Funds and technical support need to be provided by the international community for enforcement initiatives throughout the snow leopard range. In Russia, the establishment of mobile units has become the most effective means of anti-poaching control. These units must have the authority to act within the region, across several provinces, as in the case for the Tiger Inspectorate in the Russian Far East (Russian Academy of Science et al 2002). In Kyrgyzstan, the anti-poaching unit Gruppa Bars has also effectively reduced the poaching and trade and Mongolia is planning to set up a ranger unit.
Non-CITES Parties should be encouraged to join and all Central Asian countries, CITES Parties or not, need technical support in implementing the Convention.
Concerted action by the international community needs to be initiated on a global basis to contain the trade especially as there is considerable evidence as to the involvement of organised crime. The latter with its highly professional trade system in place might pose the greatest threat yet to the species in its evolutionary history.
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