Saving Snow Leopards
In Pakistan, where there are between 200 and 400 wild snow leopards, a project involving local communities is reducing the number of snow leopard killings. Snow leopards are predators and every so often they kill a goat or sheep belonging to a farmer. In retaliation, sometimes farmers will kill the endangered snow leopards.
Project Snow Leopard in Pakistan compensates local farmers for their livestock losses due to snow leopard predation, if the farmers agree not to kill snow leopards. The project was begun in 1999, and is funded by local ecotourism provided by Shafqat Hussain, and two granters; the Royal Geographical Society and the Snow Leopard Conservancy. The success of the project depends upon local community involvement. Besides receiving compensation for their lost animals, farmers also have been taught how to operate remote cameras to monitor snow leopard movements. The conservation project has expanded to ten villages.
If the snow leopard population is wiped out, the ecological balance of the areas where they live would be disrupted. Snow leopards naturally keep populations of wild goats down. In the absence of snow leopards, wild goats could strip the habitats of vegetation. Denudation of pastures leaves less for domestic livestock, and contributes to soil erosion which further decreases plant life.
Other things which cause local people to kill snow leopards are the illegal trade in pelts, and body parts used for traditional Chinese medicine. Additionally, a negative perception of snow leopards culturally has caused indiscriminate killing.
Snow leopards eat Ibex (wild goat) wild sheep, and pika, hare, rodents, and marmots. They also eat plant material during mating season. Educating the local population is a way of reducing false beliefs which lead to aggression against the cats. Another practical measure has been reinforcing livestock corrals to make them much more difficult for snow leopards to breach, so livestock killings are reduced.
Mr. Hussain said that with the combined efforts being undertaken in Pakistan, he expects to see a slight increase in the number of wild snow leopards there when the next biological survey is taken. Snow leopards are not easy to count, as they live at altitudes of 8,000-20,000 feet in summer, and are solitary. Worldwide, they are endangered with a population estimate of 3,000 to 7,500.
Image Credit: Gunnar Ries