Changing Climate Could Further Threaten the Endangered Snow Leopard
Press Release, October 23, 2015
Cat lovers across the globe are celebrating World Snow Leopard Day on October 23rd to raise awareness for this endangered cat’s plight. Threats to the elusive feline range from poaching to the loss of habitat due to mining – and climate change may be emerging as yet another big challenge for the snow leopard.
The endangered snow leopard inhabits fragile high-mountain ecosystems across Central Asia – a part of the world that is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. Scientists fear that large parts of these habitats could be impacted within the next few decades if the planet continues to warm at the current pace.
According to a projection by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average annual mean warming will be about 3 °C by the 2050s and about 5 °C in the 2080’s over the Asian land mass, with temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau rising substantially more.
Consequences for the peoples and ecosystems of Central Asia could be serious.
For example, a recent study estimates that about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalaya may be lost and heavily fragmented. The frequency of extreme climatic events is expected to increase, exacerbating floods and landslides, affecting local livelihoods, and snow leopard habitats.
The Snow Leopard Still Has A Future
This trend is certainly worrying, but no reason to despair quite yet: “The snow leopard still has a future”, says Dr. Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science and Conservation Director, “but given that the cat’s habitat is likely to come under even more pressure in the coming decades, we need to make sure to protect as many snow leopard landscapes as we possibly can today. The more intact habitats there are, the better the snow leopard’s chances to survive the changing climate.”
Keeping snow leopard landscapes safe for the cats is a challenging task that requires multiple approaches.
“Obviously, protecting core habitats from immediate threats such as mining, poaching, or unsustainable trophy hunting of wild snow leopard prey species like ibex and argali is critical”, Charu Mishra says. “But it won’t be enough. The snow leopard is a landscape species; it needs very large habitats, so we also need to ensure that the cat can coexist with local communities in less protected areas. This will require a joint effort by authorities and civil society.”
The Snow Leopard Trust is partnering with communities in snow leopard habitat in the five main snow leopard countries, helping them secure and improve their livelihoods through livestock insurance and vaccination programs, the sale of handicrafts and other initiatives; winning their support for conservation.
On the political stage, SLT and other partners have been facilitating all the 12 range countries in implementing the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of the Snow Leopard in 2013. These countries have since identified 23 landscapes to secure for snow leopards across the cat’s range under the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan.
In 2015, they’ve made further progress, forming a high-level steering committee and a permanent secretariat to manage this process, and have began work on management plans for these landscapes.
Looking for Strong Signals From Paris
While these efforts continue, the snow leopard conservation community will be looking to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris for a strong signal this December. It is of critical importance for the people and wildlife of Central Asia’s mountains that a strong agreement to combat climate change can be reached.