The world's foremost experts in the snow leopard are meeting today in Beijing in an effort to save the world's most elusive big cat.
It is the first meeting to bring together representatives from each of the 12 Asian nations with snow leopard habitat (China, Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan).
The goal is both simple and sweeping: To implement a conservation plan to ensure the survival of the species, which may number as few as 3,500 in the wild. Due to their secretive nature, exact counts are difficult to come by, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is sponsoring the conference along with the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Network.
The greatest threats to the snow leopards today include poaching for their pelts and body parts, loss of habitat, increased conflict with humans and livestock, and dwindling populations of the wild sheep and wild goats that are their main prey.
The late poet William Matthews wrote an extraordinary poem about snow leopards, available in Search Party: Collected Poems (which comes with the highest recommendation of this news editor).
William Matthews, 1942-1997
There are only a hundred or so
snow leopards alive, and three
of them here. Hours I watch them jump
down and jump up, water being
poured. Though if you fill a glass
fast with water, it rings high to the top,
noise of a nail driven true. Snow
leopards land without sound,
as if they were already extinct.
If I could, I'd sift them
from hand to hand, like a fire,
like a debt I can count but can't pay.
I'm glad I can't. If I tried to
take loss for a wife, and I do,
and keep her all the days of my life,
I'd have nothing to leave my children.
I save them whatever I can keep
and I pour it from hand to hand.
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