For her sixth birthday, Aurelia had one big wish: saving snow leopards! With the help of her parents, she asked everyone who’d come to her birthday party to make a donation instead of bringing gifts – raising over $150 for conservation!
Aurelia’s fascination for big cats started at the age of 3, when she fell in love with Gia, the ‘girl leopard’ in the movie Madagascar 3 (take your kids to animal movies, parents!) Ever since, she’s been a huge fan of the spotted furry felines – snow leopards and common leopards, jaguars, cheetahs… “and peacocks, snowy owls and mice”, she adds.
She learned more about the plight of the snow leopard from books and magazines like ‘Ranger Rick’, and from her parents, who have enthusiastically encouraged Aurelia’s love for wildlife.
For Aurelia’s sixth birthday, her mother introduced her to the concept of raising money instead of gifts, and the young leopard lover immediately took to the idea! “I thought it was cool to donate money to the snow leopards!” Aurelia says. “Now, the Snow Leopard Trust can buy fences to keep the snow leopards out of the cages where the farm animals are, and to keep the people from shooting the snow leopards.”
When she’s grown up, Aurelia wants to become a scientist that studies animals and helps protect them. With her generosity, she is already having an impact today. “There are only very few snow leopards left. I hope many people will donate to save them!”
Aurelia’s parents are understandably proud of her, “and I’m proud of myself, too”, she says. She has every right to be!
Thank you, Aurelia – we’ll do our best to keep the snow leopards safe into the future!
The snow leopard’s habitat is heavily used for livestock grazing, and herds continue to grow. What does this development mean for the endangered cat? Our India team has found some interesting answers: livestock grazing isn’t necessarily a problem per se, but it can quickly become one if herds grow too much.
In many parts of the snow leopard’s range, the cat’s natural prey species – wild goats and sheep – are now outnumbered by their domestic cousins by several orders of magnitude.
With domestic livestock numbers steadily rising, our Indian research team set out to find out what effect this development is having on the endangered snow leopard. Now, they’ve published their findings.
They surveyed 10 separate parts of the Spiti landscapes in the Indian Himalayas – a total of 4000 km2. For each sector, they estimated the number of livestock and wild ungulates as well as the presence of snow leopards.
Using 100 research cameras, lead author Rishi Sharma and his team were able to identify 24 adult snow leopards in the survey area.
Natural Prey Species Under Pressure
“When a predator’s habitat is also used for livestock grazing, it raises two main concerns”, Rishi says.
“One issue is livestock predation and the retaliatory persecution it can potentially lead to. In Spiti, this type of retribution is very rare though, due in part to local Buddhist belief systems, but also thanks to the conservation work that we’ve been able to do here for 15 years.”
The other main concern is what growing numbers of livestock will mean for wild ungulate populations.
“A landscape offers limited resources, and the snow leopard’s wild prey species are competing for these resources with domestic livestock. If there is too much livestock grazing, wild ungulate populations may eventually disappear. The cats would then be deprived of their preferred food source”, Rishi says.
Can Livestock Replace Wild Prey?
Earlier research has shown that the availability of wild prey is one of the most important indicators for an area’s snow leopard population – or, put more simply, the more wild prey, the more cats.
Interestingly, if an area has abundant wild prey, it’s also likely to see relatively high livestock predation – most likely because it will have a relatively high number of snow leopards.
But what if an area is used so extensively for livestock grazing that there is scarcely any wild prey left for snow leopards? Could domestic livestock just replace wild species in the cat’s diet and provide sufficient food to sustain snow leopard populations if herders were willing to accept a certain level of predation?
Or will the growing herds eventually spell doom for the cats if they drive wild prey away?
As this new study makes clear, the answer to the first question is a clear no. Livestock can’t replace wild prey.
No Wild Prey Means No Cats
“The study examined four factors that determine the suitability of an area for snow leopards”, Rishi Sharma says. “Number of wild prey, number of livestock, intensity of human activities, and ruggedness of the terrain. Of those four, the availability of wild prey appears to be the most important.”
The correlation was in fact linear, which confirms previous findings: the more prey, the more cats. “The opposite is just as true”, Rishi says, “no wild prey means no cats”.
But what about livestock numbers? Do they have a direct influence on the presence of snow leopards?
The answer is yes – but the influence isn’t linear.
“The relationship between livestock numbers and the presence of snow leopards seems to be hump-shaped”, Rishi says. “Up to a certain point, growing livestock numbers go hand-in-hand with habitat use by snow leopards. There seem to be areas that are so productive that they can sustain relatively high numbers of both livestock and wild prey.”
But there is a tipping point: “When livestock density becomes too high, the number of cats decreases – probably because there isn’t enough wild prey left for them.”
In fact, there seems to be practically no wild prey at all in the two sampling areas with the highest livestock densities (more than 50 heads per km2). Not surprisingly, the cats avoided these two areas almost entirely.
Livestock And Cats Can Coexist – Up to a Point
Rishi’s results suggest that in the absence of direct persecution of snow leopards, livestock grazing and snow leopard habitat use are potentially compatible - up to a certain threshold of livestock density, beyond which habitat use by the cats declines, presumably due to depressed wild ungulate abundance and associated anthropogenic disturbance.
Please help us fund grassland reserves for wild snow leopard prey species and other programs to protect the cat’s natural food source with a donation.
Primary support for this project came through a grant from Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Endowment Fund. We thank Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Whitley Fund for Nature, Snow Leopard Network, Department of Science and Technology and Panthera for general support to our programs. We are thankful to the Chief Wildlife Warden, Himachal, Divisional Forest Officer, Kaza and the Range Officer, Kaza, for permissions and logistics. We are also thankful to Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi for help with data analysis and comments on the manuscript. We thank Suhel Qader for help with data analysis. Chandrima Home immensely helped with snow leopard photo identification. Chunnit Kesang, Tenzin Thukten, Rinchen Tobgey, Sushil Dorje, Chudim, Takpa are thanked for immense help in fieldwork.
 R. K. Sharma, Y. Bhatnagar, C. Mishra: Does livestock benefit or harm snow leopards? Biological Conservation 190 (2015), 8-13.
Full article available at http://www.academia.edu/13148983/Does_livestock_benefit_or_harm_snow_leopards
For conservation to be relevant, effective and long-term, it must benefit both animals and people. Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) along with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) is working with women in Spiti to produce and sell quality products like crochet handicrafts and others, and in turn, garnering their valuable support for conservation.
This post originally appeared on the website of Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), our partner organization in India. We’re currently working with them on the launch of an Indian branch of Snow Leopard Enterprises, our handicraft-for-conservation program.
For almost 20 years, NCF’s high altitude programme has been working to conserve the fragile wildlife of the Trans Himalayan region in India. In addition to working with local communities to restore wild ungulate habitat, finding measures to reduce conflict with wildlife and designing conservation education activities for government departments, youth, local communities, children, teachers, tourists and general public, we are always looking for new ways to enhance conservation and reduce conflict.
Nestled in the picturesque Spiti valley, Kibber and Chichim villages are at an altitude of around 4200 m. Spitians share their home with rare and beautiful animals like the snow leopard, wolves, ibex, and bharal. But life isn’t always easy for both people and animals in this cold, harsh, lofty landscape. Primarily an agro-pastoralist community, they are now diversifying their sources of income to offset losses caused by climate change and livestock loss to snow leopard and wolves, amongst other factors.
In 2013, we teamed up with women from the two villages to set up a pilot project to produce and sell local products that could supplement their livelihood. We have collaborated with many talented and big-hearted artists like Aarika Solanki, Sarah Thomas, Sandhya Menon, Sandhya Srinivasan, Mala Srikanth, Arpit Agarwal and others to organise regular workshops on developing new products, and improving the quality and design of existing ones.
The women are already very comfortable working with yarn, and are now crocheting a variety of handicrafts ranging from earrings and bookmarks to table mats. We are also looking at exploring other crafts like block printing and embroidery that use local motifs, wildlife and landscape as inspiration.
Our focus, however, is not limited to handicrafts: we hope to provide a viable market for agro-produce as well. Our very first such product is a crunchy, healthy preparation of roasted barley sprinkled with a medley of spices. We are now looking to sell these products, and many others (ideas for some of which are still in the kiln), in local, national and international markets.
This year, we hope to help these enterprising women make their first sales, under the brand Shen, which is also the local name for the snow leopard.
Recent floods have wreaked havoc in northern Pakistan, affecting thousands of people who share the habitat of the endangered snow leopard. The floods appear to have been caused by melting glaciers and heavy rain, highlighting the emerging threat climate change poses to the survival of snow leopards in the Himalayas.
The most talked about challenges in snow leopard conservation include human-wildlife conflicts, habitat loss, and poaching. However, climate change and global warming are posing an emerging threat to the survival of snow leopards in Pakistan. A recent study indicates that about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas may be lost and heavily fragmented in the next decades due to rising temperatures.
The recent floods appear to be at least related to climate change: According to some government officials, higher temperatures have been triggering snow melt, which has in turn triggered floods downstream. These led to the melting of lower-elevation glaciers at a faster pace, resulting into Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Other experts place most of the blame for the catastrophic flooding on heavy monsoon rains, whose patterns are also affected by changes in Earth’s climate.
This disaster has affected large parts of northern Pakistan, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, two of the areas we are working in with our local partner, the Snow Leopard Foundation. It has cost the lives of over 100 people, and has displaced thousands. Our local team is currently assessing the damage in our partner communities across the region. According to their sources, bridges roads, cattle and houses have been washed away in various villages.
The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) Chitral office is currently in a red zone and prone to heavy floods. According to Jaffer Ud Din, SLF’s Deputy Director of SLF and Head of the Gilgit Office, who is currently in Chitral, people have seen markhor, a prey species for the snow leopard, in nearby areas out of its normal habitat in the Chitral Gol National Park. This will be something to continue to observe, because if prey species are being displaced from the National Parks, snow leopards could follow. Many markhors have also been reportedly swept up in the flash flooding.
The illegal trade in animal products is putting some of our most iconic species like snow leopards, elephants, rhinos and tigers in severe danger. The UK Government has launched Round Two of its Challenge Fund to support new initiatives to end wildlife crime.
The Snow Leopard Trust was among the recipients of the first round of grants disbursed by the UK Government’s Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014.
The IWT grant has enabled us to expand our Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP) to all protected areas of Kyrgzystan. This anti-poaching program, a joint initiative of the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Foundation, Interpol and the Kyrgyz government, trains, publicly honors, and financially rewards park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.
“Park rangers are working hard under difficult circumstances to protect endangered wildlife in Kyrgyzstan. Thanks to the grant from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, we’re now able to assist and empower them in their efforts across all 19 Protected Areas of the country”, says Kubanych Jumabai uulu, director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan.
End Wildlife Crime
Across the world, poaching remains a major threat to wildlife. In Africa, poachers killed 1,293 rhinos and over 20,000 elephant in 2013 alone. Rhino horn is now worth more than gold and is more valuable on the black market than diamonds or cocaine.
As a response to this threat, UK Environment Minister Rory Stewart renewed the UK Government commitment to tackling international wildlife crime and announced Round Two of the Illegal Wildlife Challenge Fund today.
Since its launch in 2014, Defra’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund has supported 19 projects to protect endangered species such as rhinos, elephants and snow leopards, and stop the international trafficking of illegal wildlife products.
Under the scheme, up to £5 million of UK Government funding from the Department for International Development will made available to initiatives around the world to help tackle the cruel trade in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other illegal wildlife products.
Round Two of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund will support practical action against wildlife crime by strengthening law enforcement, reducing demand for illegal products and helping communities develop sustainable conservation schemes.