Combatting Poaching & Illegal Trade


End snow leopard poaching

Under the GSLEP objectives, range countries are determined to combat poaching, illegal trade, and other wildlife crimes, and have identified a portfolio of activities to do so. This includes strengthening national systems of law enforcement, strengthening legislation and collaboration among countries and within international agreements and networks, developing effective mechanisms for eliminating the illicit demand for illegal wildlife products, and education to reduce illicit demand.

In 2017, Snow Leopard poaching and trafficking was assessed comprehensively in the TRAFFIC range-wide synthesis report, An Ounce of Prevention (Nowell et al, 2016).

This report addressed a major information gap concerning the linkage between retaliatory killing for livestock depredation and poaching for trade, and the scale at which both are taking place in the 12 Snow Leopard range countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. There is little information about illegal trade in Snow Leopards outside these countries.

Poaching of Snow Leopards

Poaching for the exquisite fur and highly valued bones has been a major threat to Snow Leopards range-wide (Snow Leopard Network 2014). In recent assessments, in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, poaching for trade emerged as a high intensity threat to Snow Leopards (Snow Leopard Network 2014). The other range countries report it as a medium intensity threat to Snow Leopards (no country considers it a low intensity threat) (Snow Leopard Network 2014).

Based on the average number of cases known to experts over the average of nine years spent working in their geographic areas of knowledge, 221-450 Snow Leopards were estimated to have been poached annually since 2008. With the average rate of poaching detection estimated by experts at less than 38%, these numbers could be substantially higher.

Of these, 55% were killed in retaliation for livestock depredation, 21% killed for trade and 18% taken by non-targeted methods such as snares. The number of poached Snow Leopards seized also doubled from 31 to 60 from the period 2003-2009 to 2010-2016 (Nowell et al, 2016).

It is important to note that while retaliatory killings may account for almost half of poaching incidents, on average experts estimate that 60% of retaliatory and non-targeted killings result in an attempt to sell (Nowell et al, 2016). This causes a difficulty in clearly distinguishing motives behind targeted poaching for trade and retaliatory and non-targeted killings. What seems clear though is that in addition to measures to address illicit demand and poaching for trade, measures to reduce retaliatory and non-targeted killings must form an important part of Snow Leopard range state strategy.

Illegal trade in Snow Leopard parts and derivatives

Illegal trade continues to be an important threat to Snow Leopard survival. The expert survey reported in-country illegal trade in Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia and Uzbekistan. Most experts described trafficking routes which led to other countries, with only experts from China not reporting that destinations for poached Snow Leopards lay outside national borders (Nowell et al, 2016).

Although China recorded the highest seizures and observations (309 Snow Leopards from 2003-2016) and annual poaching estimates (102-236), its share of Snow Leopard crime was not disproportionate to its large Snow Leopard range (at least 60%). Afghanistan and Russia have been flagged as having disproportionate levels of Snow Leopard crime (in the form of seizures and observations) relative to their Snow Leopard range. In Afghanistan the skin trade is relatively open despite being illegal, while Russia has conducted intensive anti-poaching efforts from 2005-2014 (Paltsyn et al., 2016). Since Russia and Afghanistan have relatively low estimated poaching rates (1-4 per year), there is a likelihood that many of the trade observations in these countries involve Snow Leopards poached elsewhere. Nepal and Pakistan have also been flagged for having disproportionate levels of Snow Leopard crime (in the form of annual poaching and trade estimates) relative to their Snow Leopard range (Nowell et al, 2016).

Large seizures (more than three animals), which are indicative of organized trafficking as well as law enforcement effort, have been recorded in equal numbers (5 each) in the periods 2003-2009 and 2010- 2016. However, the average number of Snow Leopards in large seizures dropped from 12 in the period 2003-2009 to 4.8 in the period 2010-2016. The majority of large seizures have been recorded in China (Nowell et al, 2016).

There are many gaps in knowledge about the illegal trade of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives which need to be focussed on. For example, the links between herders and illegal traders and smugglers need to be understood better so they can be acted upon. Another aspect that requires better understanding is the links if any between the illegal Snow Leopard trade and the illegal trade in other big cats and wildlife – to what extent is there an overlap and are there common players involved? In terms of illegal markets and trafficking routes, the information from the survey of experts in Nowell et al, 2016, needs to be built upon.

Demand and consumption of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives

Skins are the main Snow Leopard product type in trade. The primary motive for buyers appears to be for display, with some observations of skins hanging on walls in homes and restaurants, as well as stuffed taxidermy specimens. Bones are used like those of the Tiger for traditional medicine, although the skull is generally treated as an object for display or ceremony. A recent study has established the presence of Snow Leopard DNA in traditional medicine (Coghlan et al. 2015). Carcasses largely represent animals which had not yet been butchered for their most valuable parts – skin and bones – but use of meat and other fleshy body parts has been reported (Ma, 2012; Nawaz, 2012). Live animals (often cubs) were the least common in trade, and known destinations for live wild animals included zoos (Deutsche Presse, 2016), circuses (Theile, 2003), the homes of private citizens (Paltsyn et al., 2012) and, reportedly, illegal trophy hunts (Saidov et al., 2016). Teeth and claws were also observed in trade, including online trade.

Teeth and claws (as well as the tongue of the Snow Leopard) were reported from one respondent in the expert survey as traded from India through the Shipkila Pass into the Tibet Autonomous Region. According to the expert survey, China (most frequently) and Russia (from Mongolia, primarily, as well as from the Central Asian republics) were the most commonly identified destinations for Snow Leopards from other countries (Nowell et al, 2016). The demand for rugs, luxury décor, and taxidermy, especially from China and Eastern Europe, is reported to be on the increase (EIA 2012). In China, the most important Snow Leopard range country harbouring about 60% of total Snow Leopard habitat, illicit trade in Snow Leopard parts prior to 2010 was reported only from major cities lying within the country’s Snow Leopard range provinces (Li and Lu 2014). More recently, trade has also emerged in wealthy coastal cities (Li and Lu 2014; Li et al. 2016).

Illegal recreational hunting by politically powerful individuals has been described as a growing problem in Russia (Braden, 2015). The potential demand for Snow Leopard trophy hunting is also illustrated by the Mongolian Government’s 2011 initiative to make permits for legal Snow Leopard hunting available to foreign citizens, an initiative which was cancelled due to public disapproval (Roddis, 2011).

Gathering and analysis of Snow Leopard crime data

Wildlife crime is difficult to estimate. Existing systems to collate and centralize information are inadequate, making it difficult to understand the quantum and trends in trafficking. Furthermore, a rise in the number of incidences of poaching and trafficking may represent either an increase in occurrence or an indication of better crime detection. With only naïve detection rates, it is difficult to estimate the actual quantum of poaching and the efficiency of enforcement. Typically, the rate of detection of poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking is unknown and usually considered to be the tip of the iceberg. Customs officers generally opine that capabilities for seizing illegal wildlife contraband are about 10%. Large datasets analyzed using probabilistic frameworks can improve our understanding of the quantum and trends in wildlife tracking (e.g. Sharma et al. 2014). Systems of real time data collation can also facilitate better surveillance systems. Systematic and real time collation and sharing of information on illegal wildlife trade with Governments and enforcement agencies is an important step in strengthening the global battle against wildlife trafficking.

Unfortunately, these types of large, robust datasets are missing for Snow Leopards. Information on trafficking is mostly scattered in media and agency reports, and what data are collected are largely not accessible to enforcement agencies. While it is increasingly possible to filter and condense such scattered data into useful and actionable information (e.g. Li and Lu 2014), few agencies are operating across Snow Leopard range and there’s no current mechanism to compile and share pan-national data. The lack of such a mechanism for sharing data with governments and enforcement agencies severely limits the ability to curb national and cross-border wildlife trafficking across the Snow Leopard range.

International Treaties and Cooperation

Snow Leopards are listed on Appendix I of CITES and are also governed by the recommendations in CITES Conference Resolution 12.5 (Rev. CoP17) on Asian big cats, as well as other decisions of the Parties. CITES Res. Conf. 12.5 (Rev. CoP17) contains a number of recommendations which are of relevance to addressing the poaching and trade of Snow Leopards including:

i) that range and consumer states of Snow Leopards adopt comprehensive legislation and enforcement controls which clearly define the administrative responsibilities of the various government agencies responsible for regulating trade within and outside of protected areas and in outlets for parts and derivatives such as wildlife markets and shops;

ii) that parties adopt legislation with adequate penalties to deter illegal international trade in Snow Leopards;

iii) that range and consumer states of Snow Leopards strengthen enforcement efforts in key border regions, develop and improve implementation of regional enforcement networks, and implement systems for recording of information relating to illegal trade and share this information as appropriate to ensure coordinated investigations and enforcement;

iv) that enforcement units receive relevant and effective support for anti-poaching operations, the gathering and use of intelligence, targeting offenders, wildlife crime investigative techniques, collecting evidence, inter-agency liaison and cooperation, and preparing cases for prosecution;

v) that adequate management measures and practices are in place to ensure that Snow Leopard parts and derivatives do not enter illegal trade from captive breeding facilities, and that stockpiles of parts and derivatives are consolidated, controlled, and where possible destroyed; and

vi) that consumer states of Snow Leopards work with traditional medicine communities and industries to develop and implement strategies for gradually reducing and eventually eliminating the use of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives, and carry out appropriate education and awareness campaigns to eliminate illegal trade in and use of Snow Leopard skins as trophies, ornaments and items of clothing or for the production of other materials.

The implementation of Res. Conf. 12.5 has been under a process of review since 2013, and this process is set to continue over the coming years. One of the problems that this review has faced is a lack of responses from range states to the information sought by the CITES Secretariat. The GSLEP could promote awareness of this process amongst the Snow Leopard range states and encourage them to participate and respond to the notifications of the CITES Secretariat.

In addition to CITES, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) may be utilized by Snow Leopard range states to act against transnational Snow Leopard crime. In order for UNTOC to be applicable to Snow Leopard crime:

i) the states in which it occurs would have to be signatories to UNTOC;

ii) the national laws of the respective range states would have to set a maximum penalty of 4 years imprisonment or more for the crime; iii) the crime would have to be transnational in nature according to the definition set out in paragraph 2 of Article 3 of UNTOC. Domestic law may also require an organized criminal group, i.e., a structured group of 3 or more persons acting in concert to be involved. Where Snow Leopard crime meets with the requirements of UNTOC to become applicable, there is a mechanism for mutual legal assistance between states, particularly in the investigation, prosecution, and seizure of assets.

National Laws on Snow Leopards

All Snow Leopard range states are Party to CITES and hunting and trade has been prohibited domestically in all Asian range states for decades (chapters in McCarthy and Mallon 2016). However, national laws differ from range state to range state. Some of the National Snow Leopard Ecosystem Programmes such  as that of Mongolia identify the existence of loopholes in national legislation. The expert survey indicated that an average of 23% of known cases were investigated by authorities, and only 14% prosecuted (Nowell et al, 2016). Conviction rates are also thought to be relatively low.

Ideally, there needs to be a degree of uniformity in range state legislations such that they at least fulfill the requirements of deterring Snow Leopard crime, give enforcement authorities the requisite powers to detect, investigate and prosecute crimes, and that they do not have significant loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape punishment. A full analysis of range state legislations has not yet been undertaken, and this is a project that the GSLEP Secretariat with the consent of, and in consultation with the range states, may want to commission.

Policy Recommendations

The following recommendations for action are aligned with existing recommendations and planned actions, including CITES recommendations, Decisions and consultant’s reports around implementation of Resolution Conf. 12.5 (Rev. CoP17) (CITES 2015, 2016, 2017; Nowell and Pervushina, 2014); the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP, 2013, 2015, n.d.); the SLN’s Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (SLN, 2014); and WWF’s Snow Leopard Species Action Plan (WWF, 2015 and Sharma, 2016).

1. Recommendations to governments of Snow Leopard range countries

1.1 Recommendations on poaching of Snow Leopards

1.1.1 Support efforts to mitigate retaliatory killing of Snow Leopards

Killing/Human-wildlife conflict is the leading cause of Snow Leopard poaching, which feeds into illegal trade. It is important for governments to support and expand the approaches developed by the Snow Leopard conservation community to address this issue. Mishra et al. (2016) propose a three-pronged strategy:

  1. reduce livestock losses (e.g., through the construction of predator-proof corrals [Mohammad et al., 2016; Paltsyn et al., 2016] and promotion of improved herding practices [Nawaz et al., 2016a]);
  2. offset livestock losses (e.g., through community livestock insurance [Kunkel et al., 2016] and government compensation programs [e.g., Chen et al., 2016]
  3. improve the social carrying capacity for Snow Leopards (e.g., through education [Hillard et al., 2016] as well supporting conservation-linked initiatives to strengthen local livelihoods [Agvaantseren et al., 2016; Namgail et al., 2016]). Governments may also create trained Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) rapid response teams, and protect the Snow Leopard’s wild ungulate prey base (Lovari and Mishra, 2016), through conventional and innovative approaches (Nawaz et al., 2016b; Reading and Amgalanbaatar, 2016; Michel and Rosen, 2016).

1.1.2 Deterrence from poaching

While working with local communities to reduce retaliatory killings is essential, according to the expert survey retaliatory and non-targeted killings may account for up to 73% of Snow Leopard’s poached. It is therefore important that deterrence also plays a part in the strategy used to address Snow Leopard poaching. There are few effective deterrents to poaching through snares and traps. National laws must ideally cover the use of traps and snares and allow for effective enforcement action against poaching through snares and traps.

1.2 Recommendations on illegal trade in Snow Leopard parts and derivatives

1.2.1 Closure of open markets

There are a few markets where parts and derivatives of endangered species are openly sold in some Snow Leopard range states. Skins have been reported to be seen openly for sale as recently as 2014 in Kabul’s Chicken Street fur markets (Moheb and Paley, 2016), while there have been no known trade seizures in Afghanistan. While there have been less Snow Leopard skins seen openly for sale in China, seizures indicate that illegal trade continues in a less public fashion (Nowell et al, 2016). Ideally, the Snow Leopard range states can commit to the closure of shops and enforcement action against traders in markets where Snow Leopard parts and derivatives (and those of other protected species) have been seen openly for sale.

1.2.2 Capacity building for law enforcement agencies

  1. Increasing law enforcement capacity against illegal Snow Leopard trade needs to be prioritized. Enhanced capacity can be addressed across multiple agencies, through implementation of training modules to improve prevention of poaching and trafficking through efficient patrolling and intelligence gathering, effective wildlife crime investigation, and identification of parts for Customs and relevant government agencies.
  2. Initiate an institutionalised system for delivering regular training to frontline enforcement officials in range states.Intelligence gathering by law enforcement agencies may include collation of nominal information on known and suspected traders, with profiles of how these individuals operate and connect to herders as well as their international counterparts.
  3. In all range countries, there is the need for greater information sharing between provincial and national agencies responsible for enforcing wildlife laws and other branches of government, including protected areas, wildlife divisions, Customs, Border, Police, and the Judiciary. Multi-agency teams can be incentivized for performance and anti-corruption, and be provided with the latest technical tools (SMART, Zero Poaching). Mobile response teams can respond quickly to remote enforcement needs identified by informants.
  4. Consider creating national databases of spot-pattern profiles based on camera trapped images which can be cross-referenced against seized skins, and DNA profiles which can help in forensic identification of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives.

1.3 Recommendations on demand and consumption of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives

1.3.1 Study Reasons for demand and factors stimulating it

More information is needed to better understand why consumers are motivated to illegally purchase Snow Leopard products, and how they find them. Consumer states of Snow Leopards can conduct studies themselves, or allow the conduct of studies by experts on the drivers of demand for Snow Leopard parts and derivatives, and the various factors including any legal trade in snow leopards, that may affect demand for such parts and derivatives.

1.3.2 Fulfill CITES recommendations on demand reduction

In accordance with CITES Res. Conf. 12.5 (Rev. CoP17), consumer states of Snow Leopards need to work with traditional medicine communities and industries to develop and implement strategies for gradually reducing and eventually eliminating the use of Snow Leopard parts and derivatives, and carry out appropriate education and awareness campaigns to eliminate illegal trade in and use of Snow Leopard skins as trophies, ornaments and items of clothing or for the production of other materials.

1.4 Recommendations on Snow Leopard crime data

1.4.1 Creation of national crime databases and sharing of information

Snow Leopard range states to create databases on poaching and illegal wildlife trade involving Snow Leopards and related species. Additional databases can include nominal information on known and suspected traders, with profiles of how these individuals operate and connect to herders as well as their international counterparts. Range states can facilitate mutual sharing of this data, including through international law enforcement networks, to enhance and enable cross-border enforcement action.

1.5 Recommendations on International Treaties and Co-operation

1.5.1 Increase trans-boundary law enforcement cooperation

  1. Bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation (through bilateral and multi-lateral agreements) and effective use of existing networks to improve sharing of intelligence and coordination of law-enforcement efforts is suggested to implement greater control over illegal wildlife trade between Snow Leopard range countries.
  2. Illegal trade in Snow Leopards is largely international, with poached Snow Leopards being moved across borders. More support should be given to the newly created Central Asian Snow Leopard and Wildlife Enforcement Network (SLAWEN) (GSLEP, 2015), as well as the operationalization of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), to focus the attention of all range countries on illegal Snow Leopard trade, and increase the professional capacity of participating governments to conduct intelligence-led anti-poaching and trade seizures (Beale and Botezatu, 2016). Regular trans-boundary meetings between environment enforcement, Customs and border officials are essential.
  3. International law enforcement networks such as INTERPOL and the World Customs Organizations may be used to enhance transnational collaboration and cooperation on investigations, particularly with countries outside the range states.
  4. Encourage the training and use of wildlife detection dogs for Customs and Border control to facilitate detection of illegally traded Snow Leopards and their parts.

1.5.2 Reporting to CITES

Range states can be encouraged to participate in the ongoing review of the implementation of CITES Res. Conf. 12.5 (Rev. CoP17) (on Asian big cats) and provide the information which is requested by the CITES Secretariat in relation to the review.

1.5.3 Periodic reporting on illegal trade

Range states may consider publishing periodic reports on the status of illegal wildlife trade and actions taken in terms of confiscations, convictions and instances of illegal poaching and wildlife trade.

1.6 Recommendations on National Laws

1.6.1 Prioritise legislative shortcomings and recommendations

  1. Countries may need to amend legislation as envisioned in National Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Program (NSLEP) elements of the GSLEP.
  2. National and provincial laws, as the basis for enforcement, should clearly assign administrative responsibility for illegal taking, storage, transportation, collection, ownership, acquisition, and the sale or consignment of Snow Leopards and their products, parts, or derivatives (as has recently been accomplished in Russia).
  3. Legislation needs to be amended to remove the exemption allowing the killing or capture of snow leopards in defence of human life and property.
  4. Other range country governments are encouraged to adopt China’s “Zero Tolerance” approach to online advertising for protected species products, working closely with major e-commerce trading site companies and nongovernmental organizations. China’s ban on auctions (without permission) of pre-Convention/pre-national trade ban items derived from protected species (SFA, 2012) and India’s practice of absolutely no sale and no acquisition of any snow leopard parts and derivatives except through inheritance are also recommended as best practice law enforcement.
  5. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, as members of the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), need to ensure that their legal protections for Snow Leopards are harmonized under the (ECU) to ensure that illegal trade cannot be facilitated by open borders.

1.6.2 Harmonize legislation amongst range states

Harmonization of laws across regions and countries is important to ensure similar stringency in laws for effective trans-national impact. Ideally, there needs to be a degree of uniformity in range state legislations such that they at least fulfill the requirements of deterring snow leopard crime, give enforcement authorities the requisite powers to detect, investigate and prosecute crimes, and that they do not have significant loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape punishment. A full analysis of range state legislations has not yet been undertaken, and this is a project that the GSLEP Secretariat with the consent of, and in consultation with the range states, may want to commission.

1.6.3 Improving detection and conviction rates

Each range state may, taking into account its own spatial, administrative, and legal requirements consider measures such as: a) creating specialized enforcement units for wildlife crime; b) appointing dedicated prosecutors for wildlife crime; and c) designating special courts for wildlife crime at local and national levels; and other appropriate measures with a view to improving detection and conviction rates for snow leopard crime.

3. Recommendations to conservation organizations and Snow Leopard experts

3.1. Snow Leopard crime database

To facilitate inputs from expert observations and reports on the poaching and trade of Snow Leopards followed by appropriate analysis and vetting, a suitable platform can be created to easily input observations from the field into a cumulative database. This could be designed in the form of a simple mobile app (e.g. Viber, WeChat) which would allow rapid uploading of Snow Leopard poaching reports and spatial information. This would aid both monitoring and analysis, as well as serve as an important means of rapid communication with law enforcement authorities, preferably through a trained database focal point to liaise through the GSLEP Secretariat.

3.2. DNA and photographic databases

Snow Leopard experts and their community and government partners frequently collect Snow Leopard scat for DNA analysis and camera trap photos. This information is usually kept in separate research groups for publication in the academic and conservation literature. The Snow Leopard Network could explore creation of a centralized digital database repository for genetic and photographic information as an aid to law enforcement in seizure cases.

3.3. Market monitoring

Observation of trends and patterns of seizures indicate that Snow Leopards are sometimes trafficked or sold with other high mountain wildlife products in medicinal and fur markets. Markets dealing in such products can be monitored regularly for potential illegal trade in Snow Leopards. Priorities are markets in cities and large towns in all Snow Leopard range countries. In addition, systematic online surveys can be linked with Snow Leopard trade databases and undertaken in all range countries, especially since social media and web advertisements are increasingly being used in the illegal wildlife trade. Documentation of illegal trade should be provided to relevant government authorities as soon as practicable.

3.4. Expert study of demand for Snow Leopards

More information is needed to better understand why consumers are motivated to illegally purchase Snow Leopard products, and how they find them. This may be most effectively approached through inter and intra-government cooperation, allowing interviews of people who have been arrested buying or selling Snow Leopard products.

4. Recommendation to International donors

International donors can be encouraged to prioritize funding for Snow Leopard conservation in range countries, and in particular to assist in implementation of the GSLEP. As noted by the CITES Standing Committee, range country governments require financial and technical assistance to build additional capacity and resources to effectively implement CITES Resolution Conf. 12.5 (Rev. CoP17).

Illegal Wildlife Trade GSLEP Initiative

Combating illegal wildlife trade and poaching is one of the Priority areas of GSLEP. To address this threat, GSLEP and it’s partners have developed the following initiatives.