The endangered snow leopards, native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, are being mercilessly killed every year in remote mountains from China to Tajikistan, according to a report.
With only a few left in the wild, environmentalists are concerned that this trend will soon render the species, known as Panthera uncial, extinct.
According to the study by TRAFFIC, the big cats are generally killed for their carcasses and their thick light-coloured fur with dark spots for which the prices ranged up to US$10,000. While many leopards die after getting trapped in snares meant to catch other animals such as deer, others get killed by farmers to protect livestock, like goats and sheep.
The study also revealed that despite bans in 12 Asian nations an estimated 221 to 450 snow leopards were killed annually since 2008, Reuters reported. However, TRAFFIC also said that the numbers are vague as the leopards generally live in inaccessible regions including the Himalayas.
TRAFFIC is an international network which monitors wildlife trade.
In spite of these statistics, there have been some successes in protecting the animals. According to Reuters, only one leopard skin was found on sale in the central Chinese city of Linxia in a 2011 survey, against 60 in 2007.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, founded in 1964, has put the leopard on the endangered list after studying the global population which was estimated to be in between 4,080 and 6,590.
In 2013, 12 countries encompassing the snow leopard's range (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) came together to form the Global Snow Leopard Forum (GSLF). The move was initiated by the Kyrgyz Republic President Almazbek Atambayev.