One of China’s northwestern provinces has set up a special protection zone after a pair of snow leopard cubs were spotted in that area for the first time, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Saturday.
Qinghai province has allocated a conservation zone with a 2.5-kilometer radius for the endangered species after the mountain animals were spotted last week. The local government was alerted by herders who came across the cubs in Chengduo County, the source of the Yangtze River, located in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Photos and videos taken by locals out harvesting caterpillar fungus — known as “Himalayan Viagra” for its supposed libidinal qualities — in the mountainous terrain show the sleepy-eyed cubs, both around 15 days old, panting and huddled together inside a small rocky den, waiting for their mother to return.
The snow leopard cub yawns in Chengduo County, Qinghai province, June 16, 2017. Courtesy of Chengduo County government
“Snow leopards are very vulnerable during the nursing period, and human disturbance may cause the mother to abandon her cubs,” Zhao Xiang, project manager at the Beijing-based nonprofit Shanshui Conservation Center, told Sixth Tone. The organization has been working on snow leopard protection projects in Qinghai since 2009.
Snow leopards have been classified as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, with an estimated 4,080 to 6,590 remaining in the wild worldwide. The large cats are mostly found in 12 countries along the Himalayas, and 60 percent of them are said to be in China’s Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions, as well as in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces. Snow leopards were listed as “first class” protected species under China’s 1989 wildlife protection law. Today, the Tibetan Plateau is home to only around 2,500 snow leopards, according to Zhao. In addition to efforts from governments and NGOs, some conservation-minded locals are doing their part to protect the animals, too.
On Saturday, two days after the cubs were discovered, Zhao said the mother had returned to the spot. “Judging from the fact that the mother came back, the [human] influence was not damaging,” he explained. Qinghai’s local government has since restricted entry and dispatched rangers to patrol the area, keeping foragers for caterpillar fungus at bay, The Paper said. The government has also named the cubs, christening them “Su Su” and “Ma Ma,” which together mean “dear” in Tibetan.
“It’s difficult to find clear data about how snow leopard populations and habitats are changing in China, as there’s still little research in this area,” Zhao said. “But what’s certain is that they’re facing increasingly serious threats as climate change and human activity continue to limit their territory.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Two snow leopard cubs are spotted in Chengduo County, Qinghai province, June 16, 2017. Courtesy of Zhao Xiang/Shanshui Conservation Center)