A healthy population of rare snow leopards has been discovered in mountainous northeastern Afghanistan, with the world's "most elusive" cat caught on camera by a wildlife group.
The Wildlife Conservation Society said this week that the endangered animals have been documented by camera traps at 16 different locations along the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow strip of land that connects Afghanistan to China.
Only about 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards remain in the wild, spread across a dozen nations in central Asia.
Images of snow leopards filmed in Afghanistan
The Wildlife Conservation Society says the number of snow leopards has declined by as much as 20 percent over the past 16 years. The cats are poached for their pelts, killed by shepherds guarding their flocks, and also targeted for illegal pet trade.
The New York-based group says it has developed a set of conservation initiatives to protect snow leopards, including training rangers to monitor wildlife, constructing predator-proof livestock corrals and initiating a livestock insurance program that compensates shepherds.
Wildlife Conservation Society official Peter Zahler said Wednesday that the recent discovery of a healthy population shows that there is "real hope" for snow leopards in Afghanistan. The goal now, he said, is to ensure that the animals have a secure future "as a key part of Afghanistan's heritage."