Marwell Zoo is celebrating 10 years of International Snow Leopard Day and a decade of efforts to safeguard one of the world’s most elusive threatened big cats.

Known as the Ghost of the Mountains, snow leopards live amongst the rugged landscapes of central and south Asia and their conservation has never been more critical.

In 2013, the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) was set up to bring 12 snow leopard range countries together.

The aim of the initiative was to seek agreement to secure the long-term survival of snow leopards and their natural environment and consequently the natural balance of these mountain ecosystems.

It is estimated that up to 7,500 snow leopards remain in the wild, but the exact number is unknown.

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As an apex predator at the top of their food chain, human activities pose serious threats to snow leopards and their habitat. 

Primary challenges include habitat loss, poaching, climate change, and human-wildlife conflict. Their skins are used for rugs and luxury décor and their bones are used in traditional medicines.

Marwell works on initiatives to safeguard the future of snow leopards in China, Kazakhstan and Bhutan as well as transboundary projects working collaboratively across international borders to protect the future of snow leopards.

Marwell’s director of conservation Professor Philip Riordan said: “I think now with the work we’ve been doing and the work our teams in snow leopard range states have put in place, the awareness and understanding we have about snow leopards does give me confidence we are not going to lose a species by accident, which could have been the case. 

“The fact we’re able to support and develop local conservationists in communities living with these majestic creatures is going to provide us with the ability to protect snow leopards, other species and their ecosystems. Without their involvement, we are always going to struggle to make positive impact.”

The zoo has launched a campaign to raise £20,000 towards a new extension to its existing snow leopard habitat. The work will double the size of the snow leopard’s home and enable them to consider breeding or housing a family group in the future. 

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