New Delhi: With only 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild and 500 of them in India, a new report has urged countries to take urgent action in the wake of climate change to save the endangered species and conserve its "fragile" mountain habitats.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report titled "Fragile Connections: Snow leopards, people, water and the global climate" said that more than a third of snow leopard habitat could be rendered "unsuitable" for the big cats if climate change is not checked.
"Warmer temperatures could see the tree line shifting up the mountains and farmers planting crops and grazing livestock at higher altitudes, squeezing the remaining snow leopards into smaller pockets," a WWF India report said.
It said it is not just snow leopards that are at risk since their high-altitude habitat spans many of Asia's major watersheds but over 330 million people live within 10 km of rivers originating in snow leopard territory and directly depend on them for their daily water supplies.
"Climate change could drastically alter the flow of water down from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of vast numbers of people across the continent," it said.
This year is also the 'International Year of the Snow Leopard' and marks an important turning point as snow leopard range countries across the WWF network commit to take action and start an exciting new global initiative to save the animal.
"The snow leopard is considered to be the guardian and indicator species of the high mountains of Asia. Mysterious and elusive, the cat has fascinated explorers, researchers and conservationists across the world.
"With an estimated population of 500 cats, India has been a leading player in the conservation efforts to secure the snow leopard and its habitat in the Himalayas. The WWF campaign on the snow leopard is an initiative that will help the conservation of the species and the threats it faces globally," said Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India.
WWF India said there could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild with only around 500 in India - and their numbers are continuing to fall.