The people who used to hunt big cats in Russia are now the ones dedicated to protecting them. Especially with the declining snow leopard population, conservation efforts are desperately needed if we want to keep creatures of this majestic species alive. Luckily, their former poachers have realized this importance, and they are now fighting to keep them alive.
The World Wildlife Foundation classifies the snow leopard as a vulnerable species—meaning the big cats are endangered and have a high chance of facing extinction in the wild. They are found in 12 countries, mainly in China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia. Without these countries’ coordinated efforts, the snow leopards will continue to be poached for their fur and bones.
Instead of shooting the big cats with guns like they used to, former Russian poachers are shooting them with cameras instead. After years of tracking and searching for them, the hunters have become quite good at finding the elusive cats, so they are our best bet to help out with conservation efforts. Along with the help of some motion-sensors, well-hidden cameras, and timers, the ex-poachers can track and identify the snow leopards around the area. This helps researchers with their data gathering, tracking of population progress, and identification of potential problems to be resolved.
While it’s easy to demonize these poachers, it’s important to note that most of them hunt the leopards out of survival. There are many people who come from rural areas who find it difficult to have a steady-paying job, so they turn to poaching because the market is quite lucrative, and they can make a lot of money with a single kill. These ex-poachers are making a valiant effort to protect the big cats, but not everyone can be on payroll to be guardians of the snow leopard.
A solution is to begin giving financial incentives to those who want to continue protecting the majestic cats. With more resources poured into the conservation efforts, there will be less incentives to poach the leopards. It would be a shame if in the future, we can only see these big cats in pictures or as someone’s luxury rug.