"Afghanistan has been devastated by 30 years of conflict, so you might not expect there to be a lot of large wildlife left. But there does appear to be a fairly large population of snow leopards, and that's wonderful," said Peter Zahler, who launched the Wildlife Conservation Society's Afghanistan program in 2006.
This scratching snow leopard is among several of the big cats recently photographed by the camera traps in Afghanistan.
The traps, which are triggered by motion, were placed at 16 locations throughout the Wakhan Corridor by local Afghan men who are being trained as rangers to help monitor and protect wildlife, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
A snow leopard peers over a snowbank in a recent camera-trap picture. The big cats have earned a bad reputation among some people across their range because of the big cats' knack for preying on livestock such as sheep and goats, Zahler noted.
"In Afghanistan, however, our data strongly suggests that they aren't taking much livestock at all, and I'd hypothesize that's because densities of their primary prey—ibex and Marco Polo sheep—are still relatively high," he said. "In turn, locals here don't tend to view snow leopards the way they may elsewhere in the world."
Zahler hopes to keep it that way by promoting projects in the region such as leopard-proof corrals to protect livestock.
A snow leopard negotiates a rocky slope in a recent picture.
The Wakhan Corridor's snow leopard numbers may look healthy, but poaching remains a danger—as does capture of the cats for the live-animal trade. (Related: "Record Cache of Snow Leopard Parts Seized in China .")
Each of these activities has been documented in the region, and Zahler said such concerns are magnified, because even healthy snow leopard populations aren't large.
"Historically the number that's been used for Afghanistan is about a hundred snow leopards," he explained. "We don't know what the actual number is, but if that's [reasonably] accurate, the loss of even a few snow leopards is a big problem."