for National Geographic News
The pelts of 27 snow leopards were recently seized from a black market trader in China. The record bust highlights the menacing threat to one of the world's most endangered cats, experts say.
Acting on a tip, agents from China's State Forestry Administration raided an apartment in western China last month, according to state media.
"Police found three snow leopard heads and two snow leopard skeletons in the raid," Ge Yun, of the China-based nonprofit Xinjiang Conservation Fund (XCF), told National Geographic News.
The seizure is reportedly the largest haul of leopard pelts since Chinese officials began keeping records in 1949.
An official with China's State Forest Administration, who identified himself as Mr. Li, confirmed the arrests in a telephone interview but declined to offer details.
"The snow leopard is endangered, and the government is working very hard to protect it," he said.
Elusive, Valuable Cat
An elusive cat with short front limbs, large paws, and elongated hind legs, the snow leopard is able to traverse snowy mountain terrain, scrubland, grassland, and steppes.
Its range includes the rugged lands of South and Central Asia—including parts of China, India, and Nepal—where its skin and bones are sought for garments and traditional remedies (see map).
In harsh, politically unstable regions within the animal's range, a single snow leopard pelt can mean a small fortune.
Mr. Ma, for example, told police he bought the pelts in Tibet and the northwestern province of Qinghai last year.
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