Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925833
The snow leopardis an iconic flagship species of the mountains of central Asia. The best estimate of global snow leopard population is 4,000–6,500 individuals (McCarthy and Chapron, 2003) and the species is categorized as “endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
It is estimated that 200–420 snow leopards exist in Pakistan’s northern mountains across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. A national-level assessment deemed the species “critically endangered” (Sheikh and Molur, 2004) within the country. While small, Pakistan’s snow leopard population represents the world’s third largest by size, tied with India, highlighting the country’s importance for conserving the species worldwide.
Within Pakistan, the GB province contains the largest proportion (>60%) of the country’s snow leopard population (Hussain, 2003) which is largely concentrated in the province’s two largest and adjoining national parks, Khunjerab National Park (KNP) and Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP).To the north, KNP and CKNP border important snow leopard habitat in China, home to the largest population of the cats throughout its 12-country range. Given the large home ranges of individual cats—studies show that snow leopards can have a home range of up to 1,000 km2and travel up to 200 km in a single foray (McCarthy, 2000; McCarthy et. al., 2010; Sharma et al., 2010)—it is fair to assume that the Karakoram range in Pakistan helps form a large wildlife corridor important for the overall genetic flow between snow leopards in Pakistan, China, and India.
The total snow leopard habitat available in Pakistan is about 80,000 km2 (Fox, 1989), and encompasses four high mountainous systems, namely the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs, the Karakorum, and the Himalayas. These majestic ranges are home to some of the world’s most fascinating and endangered wild species, including the markhor (Capra falconeri), Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii), musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster), Himalayan lynx (Lynx lynx), blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), brown bear (Ursus arctos), Indian wolf (Canis lupus), Himalayan ibex (Capra sibirica), and the snow leopard, which is taken as an indicator of this mountainous ecosystem.
Pakistan’s snow leopard range is spread over a vast landscape where over nine million people live, today. The vastness of the area coupled with extreme ruggedness and poor accessibility implies that any field-based research is logistically expensive and physically demanding. Therefore, considerable financial resources and trained manpower are required to explore the entire range systematically to achieve a thorough understanding of snow leopard ecology.
The strategic plan for snow leopard conservation in Pakistan (Khan, 2008) acknowledges the principle that the right of the snow leopard and its prey to survive is more generously guaranteed if the right of pastoral communities to optimize their economy, is accepted and supported. A population of over nine million people in the snow leopard range predominantly exercises agro-pastoral livelihood systems with a heavy dependence on livestock. Annual predation pressure on livestock in the snow leopard range is estimated to be 1.3 (range0.7–3.3) animals per family, which is about 30% of the cash income that communities gain through livestock marketing (SLF, unpublished data).This significant economic loss is not compensated in any form, which turns communities against snow leopards and leads to retaliatory killings (a major threat to the snow leopard throughout its range). There are over 20 PAs of different sizes and categories within the snow leopard range. However, in most cases, their efficiency is compromised by the lack of management infrastructure or management plans, and baseline information on biological and other natural resources. These factors make them ineffective in protecting snow leopards and their habitat. These PAs are generally not large enough to protect home ranges of single cats. The landscape-level movement of the cat requires multiple measures, including the demarcation and creation of additional PAs, linking existing PAs, and cross-border co-operation for trans-boundary protection. Finally, education and awareness, particularly at the local level, are critical factors in generating support among local communities for conservation and management initiatives.
Pakistan’s snow leopard range remains a major focus of conservation efforts by the Government and leading conservation organizations like the IUCN, the SLT, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan (WWF-P). Although the snow leopard was not the prime focus in the majority of large projects undertaken in northern Pakistan in past, they have contributed to the cause of snow leopard conservation in various ways, ranging from enhancing awareness to improving habitat quality and prey base. A dedicated programme for the conservation of snow leopards was initiated by the SLT in partnership with WWF-P and the KPK Wildlife Department, in the late 1990s.The programme started exploring the status of the cat in Pakistan and introduced community-based conservation programmes in Chitral district, KPK. A major breakthrough in this direction was the inception of the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) in 2008, which was set up as a dedicated institution to scale up snow leopard conservation work in Pakistan. The SLF started implementing the snow leopard conservation strategy through three-year planning cycles and expanded the conservation programme geographically and thematically.
To strengthen and expand the ongoing efforts we approached The Mohammad bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund in 2010. MBZ was kind enough to endorse the project titled as “Conservation of Snow Leopard in Pakistan” for a period of one year i.e. January 01 to December 31, 2011.
This project was aimed to enhance our understanding of snow leopards and improve the conservation status of snow leopards in northern Pakistan through conservation measures and awareness and advocacy campaigns, respectively. The highlights of the project include assessing the human-snow leopard conflict and attitude/perception of communities towards snow leopard conservation in selected valleys of Hindu Kush, Pamir, and Karakorum ranges besides studies on the distribution of the snow leopard through site occupancy surveys in the selected sites and at last but not the least extensive camera trapping study in Qurumabr National Park, respectively. Overall, baseline data was collected from about 2000km² area. The project also helped expand and strengthen the Snow Leopard Friendly Livestock Vaccination Program in 20 villages (1500 households) falling in two valleys. More than 50,000 animals were vaccinated and vaccination fund was established. Capacity of the 27 community members were build in undertaking the conservation program while the skills of the field staff’s (15) of Wildlife Department were enhanced through on field training sessions during the ecological studies. The awareness campaigns undertaken during this project helped inculcate sense of stewardship and love for snow leopard and associated fragile mountain ecosystem in the general masses. More than 10,000 people were reached through the awareness and advocacy campaigns.
Project 0925833 location - Pakistan, Asia