Why this captured snow leopard is exciting researchers

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The collaring of the snow leopard suggests conditions for the conservation and long-term survival of the species has vastly improved. Full credit: S.Kachel/Panthera/SAEF/NAS/UW

(CNN) — Scientists believe the snow leopard may be back from the brink of extinction — at least in one part of the world.

Earlier this month, Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, and a team of local researchers, captured and collared a female snow leopard that had recently given birth in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan — suggesting the leopards are protected enough to breed and have access to the prey needed to raise cubs.

It was the second snow leopard ever collared — the first was captured by the same team in October in the central Asian country.

“This means that in our territory the snow leopard population is growing, translating to positive change for the region and the species,” said Muhtar Musaev, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve.

Thanks to poaching, the species was almost wiped out in the region in the 1990s but Tom McCarthy, executive director of Panthera’s snow leopard program said their findings suggested that regional conservation efforts were working — calling the nature reserve a “stronghold for the species.”

A camera in northwest China recently captured the first footage of two of the big cats mating.

Some 4,500 to 10,000 of the big cats are thought to roam Asia’s mountain ranges — often called the roof of the world.

Threatened by loss of prey, poaching and shrinking habitat, the species is rarely seen, even by local people, who call them “mountain ghosts.”

A recent study suggested the snow leopard had lost nearly 75% of its historic range and only 17% of its current range was protected land.