Environmentalists have shared photos of at least two snow leopards that were captured on film in Uzbekistan.
The images are the first photographic evidence of the endangered cats' presence in that Central Asian country, on the western edge of their known habitat.
The Panthera and WWF conservation groups said in a statement the leopards were caught on cameras placed in the Hissar Nature Reserve in late 2013.
They are "expert at navigating the steep and rocky alpine regions of Central Asia...reconizable by [their] long tail and almost-white coat, spotted with large black rosettes," according to WWF Global
They are increasingly victims of habitat loss and hunting, according to wildlife experts.
Panthera and WWF said
In November and December of 2013, a team of rangers and biologists led by Bakhtiyor Aromov and Yelizaveta Protas, in collaboration with global wild cat conservation organization, Panthera, and WWF Central Asia Program, conducted a snow leopard camera trap study in the Kizilsu area of Gissar Nature Reserve, on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Images taken through the study have confirmed the presence of at least two individual snow leopards in the region, along with other large predators – lynx and bear – and an abundance of prey animals, including ibex, wild boar, and hare.
Images taken through the study confirmed the presence of other predators and a number of prey animals, including ibex, wild boars, and hares, Panthera said.
The statements said the confirmed presence of snow leopards in the westernmost part of the species’ range and the availability of prey "provides hope for the survival" of the snow leopard.
An estimated 3,500-7,000 of the species remain in 12 countries across Asia.
The Hissar Nature Reserve abuts the western part of the Pamir Mountains.
Snow leopards are a prized target for poachers, who can sell their pelts for more than $1,000.
WWF and Panthera said in their statement:
Alexandr Grigoryants, Executive Director of the State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan, commented, “The State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan is particularly focused on the protection and increasing the numbers of rare and endangered fauna in Uzbekistan. Thanks to the hard work of the reserve employees, and with the active help of state protection officers and international conservation organizations, such as WWF, UNDP, Panthera and others, the population numbers of endangered animals in Uzbekistan will increase.”
-- Antoine Blua