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    Local Inaction Threatens China’s Snow Leopards, Report Says

    Inadequate funding and training under local governments are the greatest challenges in protecting the country’s big cats, according to researchers.

    A lack of conservation practices by local governments has become one of the major threats to snow leopards in China, according to a new report released Tuesday.

    Inadequate funding, manpower, and conservation training in government departments — especially those in the northwestern Qinghai province and the southwestern Tibet Autonomous Region — have made it challenging for state-employed conservationists to conduct field surveys and monitor the large cats, the report said. Nineteen environmental organizations and research institutes — including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Shanshui Conservation Center — collaborated on the report released to mark International Snow Leopard Day, observed annually on Oct. 23.

    Xiao Lingyun, the report’s lead researcher, told Sixth Tone that the authorities should play an active role and invest more in protecting the threatened species. She added that strengthening policy is key to conservation. “No matter how much we local organizations do, it cannot compare with government policy in terms of the scale of funding and effort,” she said.

    With fewer than 7,000 remaining in the wild, snow leopards have been classified as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The snow leopard population is spread across 12 countries, but scientists say that 60 percent of the animals can be found in western China.

    Experts surveyed five provinces and regions in the country’s west for the report and noted area-specific challenges in protecting the leopards. While feral dogs pose a high risk to snow leopards in Qinghai, increased human activity and overgrazing in the southwestern Sichuan province as well as poaching in the northwestern Gansu province — known for both its legal and unlawful sales of animal furs — have proven to be the greatest dangers to the big cats.

    Snow leopards have also been threatened by climate change and the indifference of local residents, according to the report. Xiao, the researcher, said that the findings will help raise awareness about the animals as well as their environment.

    “We should not only pay attention to the snow leopards but also the ecosystem around them,” she argued. “Human population growth and grassland degradation are likely to push some species to the edge of extinction. By protecting snow leopards, we can raise awareness about the conservation of the entire ecosystem.”

    Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled “World Wide Fund for Nature.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: A snow leopard lies on the ground in Sanjiangyuan, also known as the Three-River Headwaters region, Qinghai province, Aug. 9, 2016. VCG)