June 11, 2009--
Tail raised, a snow leopard
, likely marking its territory, is caught in the act by a camera trap on April 14, 2009, in eastern Afghanistan
's mountainous Wakhan Corridor.
Four of five traps placed throughout the rugged region--a narrow strip that straddles Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south--photographed different snow leopards on several occasions. (See a map of the region.
The relatively large number of sightings are promising for the animal, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Once found throughout the high altitudes of Central Asia, the cats are thought to number only about a hundred in Afghanistan, conservationists say.
"What the pictures really suggest is that there's still real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan," said Peter Zahler, the assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program.
(Read about snow leopards in National Geographic magazine
Poaching of both the big cats and of their main prey species, Marco Polo sheep and ibex, has led to the decline of the snow leopard, Zahler said. Without prey, the leopards sometimes attack livestock, and shepherds may in turn shoot the leopards--a "vicious circle," Zahler said.
"They are really the iconic species of the great mountains of Asia. To lose them would be to lose their presence that defines these mountains," Zahler added.
Photograph courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society