Snow leopards are no longer considered an endangered species, according to an international body which has reclassified the animal for the first time in 45 years.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved the species into the less urgent “vulnerable” category – though it remains at risk from a reduction in numbers of its prey and poaching for its fur and bones.
The change follows a three-year assessment process by five international experts. To be considered endangered there have to be fewer than 2,500 mature adult snow leopards in the wild, but experts now believe their true number may be around 4,000 with some saying it could be as high as 10,000.
Scientists have managed to survey only a small fraction of the animal’s high-mountain range, an area covering some 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) crossing 12 countries in Asia.
Some positive developments included an increase in the number of protected areas, as well as improved efforts by local communities to protect the animals from poachers.