Climate change threatening snow leopards

NEW DELHI, Oct. 23 (UPI) Scientists with the World Wildlife Fund warn the snow leopard's habitat could shrink by as much as one-third as the climate continues to warm.

In a new report highlighting the big cat's predicament, conservationists point out that the leopard's home is also the source of clean water for much of Asia.

"Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the 'ghost of the mountains' could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people," biologist Rishi Kumar Sharma, who is leading the WWF Global Snow Leopard project, said in a press release.

As greenhouse gas emissions encourage warmer climates, scientists warn that tree lines in Asia's high mountains will move higher, drawing farmers and livestock grazers into higher altitudes and further squeezing the territory of the vulnerable snow leopard.

The latest estimates suggests fewer than 4,000 snow leopards remain in Himalayas. Even without climate change, the cats face pressures from humans. Over the last 16 years, habitat degradation and poaching have led to a 20 percent decline in the snow leopard population.

Conflicts with humans and livestock are increasingly common in the Eastern Himalays, where habitat fragmentation leaves the leopards without proper hunting grounds and fewer prey. Like other predatory cats, snow leopards are solitary hunters and require large swaths of wilderness to survive.

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