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Confusion and fear costs snow leopard life in Kashmir

The famous Stephen Oachs photo of a snow leopard which was used in the Express Tribune story about a man who had been killed by a common leopard.

Sadly villagers in the remote town of Rawalkot in Kashmir didn’t realise that there has never been a case of a snow leopard attacking a human. Last week a snow leopard climbed up a tree near the village and locals, fearing for their safety, shot the animal dead. It also seems probable that locals sometimes confuse snow leopards with the common leopard, a cat that has attacked and killed humans in the past.

Mr Waseem Khursheed,a local businenessman, witnessed the killing. “A snow leopard climbed up a tree and remained there for eight hours in the town of Banjosa, some 18 kilometres from Rawalkot.” Villagers tried to scare the leopard with firecrackers, but when this didn’t work they decided to kill it instead. Mr Khursheed reported  the villagers skinned the snow leopard and distributed its meat among the locals as it’s thought to have medicinal properties.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Act, the killing of a snow leopard can result in imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or fine, but charges are rarely made and not if it is considered self defense.

According to snow leopard expert, Dr Rodney Jackson, “To my knowledge there are no known, authenticated incidents of a human losing his or her life due to a snow leopard attack. This cat is amazingly shy and rather docile. Really, the opposite is the case given the number of stories of snow leopards — caught in a livestock pen — being stoned or beaten to death by angry villagers.”

Unfortunately confusion between the common leopard and snow leopard will continue when even a newspaper like the Express Tribune publishes the wrong photo in its stories about common and snow leopards.

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