A surprisingly healthy population of snow leopards has been photographed at 16 different locations using camera traps in the mountainous region of Wakhan Corrider, Afghanistan, reported the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The images (below) are the first ever captured of snow leopards in Afghanistan.  The area at which they were found was one of the few that are untouched by civil unrest and military conflict in the country.   

This is a wonderful discovery. It shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan. Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as part of Afghanistan's natural heritage, said Peter Zahler of the WCS.

Snow leopards have long fascinated humans and are revered in many Central Asian cultures, likely because of their striking looks and elusive nature.

Part of the lure, however, has made them targets for humans and caused their population to decline as much as 20 percent of the last 16 years. 

They are poached for their pelts, attacked by shepherds trying to protect their flocks, and captured as exotic pets.  In China, there is a belief that their penises and bones enhance sexual performance.

To protect these endangered animals, the WCS is training conservation rangers, constructing predator-proof livestock corrals, and rolling out programs to compensate shepherds for flocks killed by snow leopards.