Long-endangered snow leopard upgraded to 'vulnerable' status

In this Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, photo, an endangered snow leopard cub explores it's enclosure the Los Angeles Zoo, in California. The elusive snow leopard _ long considered an endangered species _ has been upgraded to "vulnerable," international conservationists said Thursday. But experts warned the new classification does not mean the big cats are safe. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

BANGKOK (AP) — Conservationists say the elusive snow leopard — long considered an endangered species — has been upgraded to “vulnerable.”

The reclassification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, follows a three-year assessment during which experts determined that the Himalayan big cat no longer numbered fewer than 2,500 in the wild, and was not in steep decline — the two criteria for being considered “endangered.”

But experts warned that doesn’t mean the snow leopard should be considered safe. The animals still face serious challenges including poaching, loss of habitat and now climate change.

Tom McCarthy, head of the big cat conservation group Panthera, said the species still faces a risk of extinction, “just not at the rate previously thought.”