Leopards moving into snow leopard mountain territory on Tibetan plateau as climate warms

Camera trap catches a leopard and a snow leopard in the same place

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Tuesday 17 January 2017 15:28
Comments
Video shows common leopards and snow leopards sharing habitat for first time ever

A leopard has been caught on camera in snow leopard territory, high on the Tibetan plateau, for the first time in a discovery that has alarmed conservationists trying to save the latter.

There are fears that, as the climate warms, leopards will increasingly compete with their endangered cousins.

Snow leopards are classed as endangered after losing at least 20 per cent of their population in just 16 years due to habitat loss, poaching and a lack of prey to eat, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The global population is estimated at between 4,080 and 6,590.

Leopards are “widely distributed” in Africa and Asia, according to the IUCN, but are themselves classed as “vulnerable” with evidence of dramatic reductions in their populations because of persecution, hunting, loss of habitat and other largely human-caused factors.

They normally inhabit forests, while snow leopards tend to be found above the tree line.

Byron Weckworth, China programme director at conservation group Panthera, told BBC News that the latter were losing territory as the temperatures rise.

“In a changing climate, we expect the tree line to move up the slopes and that's encroaching into the snow leopard's habitat,” he said.

“The bigger threat is the snow leopards' habitat loss and its fragmentation.”

The ordinary leopard was caught on a camera trap in China’s Qinghai province in July last year, when the same camera also filmed a snow leopard.

It is unclear how the two species will interact. Some local people believe the two types of cat have mated, but Mr Weckworth said it was unlikely they would be able to produce any offspring because they are too far apart genetically.

Koustubh Sharma, an expert with the Snow Leopard Trust, said: “How are these two cat species already managing to live together — or will the interface be difficult when their habitats are changing with climate change?"

“The pictures from our camera trap make these questions more relevant and pressing.”

The situation echoes the increasing interactions between grizzly and polar bears as temperatures warm in North America.

They are capable of mating and produce a hybrid known as a grolar or pizzly, which geneticists said would hasten the demise of the world's largest land predator. Polar bears genes are expected to be gradually lost from the gene pool as the two animals mate, with hybrids becoming more and more like grizzlies over time.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in