The ongoing threat of snow leopard trade: Out in the cold

Snow leopards are one of the most endangered big cat species, with between 3,290 and 6,390 individuals spread across 12 Asian range states.

Snow leopards in danger

Snow leopards continue to be threatened by habitat loss, conflict killing, prey loss and poaching for trade. Between 2008 and 2016, 220-450 snow leopards were killed and traded each year – an average of one per day.

Since 2005, our investigators have uncovered the skins of at least 106 snow leopards for sale across western and central China, particularly in Linxia in Gansu Province. Investigations in 2016 confirmed that the trade is ongoing. Additional data from seizure reports suggest that aside from those skins offered to our investigators, there have been recorded seizures of 276 snow leopard skins since 2000, including 185 across India, Nepal and China and a further 85 across other Range States.

Market for taxidermy and home décor

Since 2007, the market for snow leopard skins has been geared towards the luxury furnishing and taxidermy sector, with specimens being prepared with head and paws intact or mounted on red backing fabric. This fits trends seen in the illegal tiger trade, where specimens seen by investigators are prepared for the luxury home décor market. We have not gathered specific testimony on demographics of snow leopard consumers, although prices quoted for skins indicate that they are purchased by people of medium income to decorate their home, unlike the elite demographic purchasing tiger and leopard skins.

Diverse markets for bone, meat and teeth

“Leopard bone”, including from snow leopard, appears to be offered as a substitute for tiger bone for medicinal purposes, or possibly sold to consumers as tiger bone. A traditional Chinese medicine product produced by a Beijing-based manufacturer and purchased in Australia in 2012 was found to contain snow leopard DNA on testing; this product would traditionally have contained tiger bone. Sales of meat were mentioned by a trader in 2016, and an unspecified amount of snow leopard meat was seized in Lhasa, October 2016. EIA investigators have also been offered snow leopard skulls and teeth. As with tiger and other big cats, these appear to be in demand for use as amulets and luxury jewellery.

Our work on snow leopards

We will continue to support the work of the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem and Protection Program by advocating for better enforcement of laws to protect snow leopards and other Asian big cats in China. We will continue to network with like-minded organisations and individuals to raise awareness of the threat posed to snow leopards and all big cats from the unchecked demand for teeth, claws, skin and bones, and urge the President of China to announce a zero tolerance on the use of all parts and derivatives of all big cats, whether wild or captive bred.