There are only a few thousand of them left in the wild and fewer in captivity, but another snow leopard was lost this week when Belgian authorities were forced to shoot one that escaped from a zoo in the east of the country.
The killing of the cat – which is on a red list of threatened species – has provoked outcry in Belgium and raised questions about why wildlife officials were not equipped with tranquilliser darts or other non-lethal methods to capture the animal.
The animal, which had arrived two weeks earlier from a zoo in Austria, escaped through a window at the Monde Sauvage park on Tuesday morning. Police, firefighters and a helicopter joined wildlife officials and sniffer dogs in the hunt, with residents asked to stay inside for their safety.
The animal was eventually cornered in a car park early on Wednesday morning, where a guard “had no other option but to shoot the animal”, the park said in a statement, adding that the leopard was aggressive.
Now the wildlife organisation Gaia is demanding an investigation, the newspaper La Libre reports, and is asking the minister in charge of animal welfare to step in. “Why were the park staff not equipped tranquilliser darts?” asked Gaia president Michel Vandenbosch.
The zoo said it would conduct an internal investigation into the shooting.
The WWF says there are about 2,500 adult snow leopards left in the wild, with their habitat in south Asia under threat. There are about 600 to 700 living in zoos.