Various infections pose a threat to wild snow leopard populations, as well as humans and other animals around their habitat, new research shows.
Researchers have identified antibodies to pathogens in the wild blood of snow leopards, which they claim are a threat to the species.
“Disease epidemics can destroy wild snow leopards, because of their low numbers and many other threats to their existence,” said Carroll Esson, a researcher at James Cook University in Australia and study author.
The death of four snow leopards for unexplained reasons in the South Gobi province in Mongolia in 2011 led to a recent study of the effects of zoonotic pathogens on animal welfare.
When surveyed 20 snow leopards between 2008 and 2015, the researchers found antibodies to zoonotic agents in their blood samples.
The researchers focused on pathogens that migrate between different species and found several pathogens that can be transmitted to humans, such as: B. Coxiella burnetii, which can cause Q fever in livestock. Leptospira types are transmitted to humans and that can develop into potentially life-threatening infections; and Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis.
“Although the zoonotic pathogens identified in this study do not appear to cause snow leopards in the short term, they have caused illness in other wild cats,” Esson said. “Therefore, it is now necessary to carry out surveillance to monitor the potential long-term effects of the disease on this vulnerable population.”
The current snow leopard population is 4,000 people. However, threats such as habitat loss, climate change, conflicts with shepherds and poachers in their native mountainous regions of Central Asia can contribute to this decline.
“The sensitivity of local residents to possible diseases in their animals and in themselves can improve the health of livestock, increase their productivity and income,” Esson said.