Snow Leopard Trust staff are working with partners and the Kyrgyz parliament against a proposed law that would weaken protections for nature reserves in the country.
Kyrgyzstan’s protected areas are made up of core zones, which are off-limits to everything except scientific research, and buffer zones, where activities such as agriculture and tourism are allowed in certain circumstances.
Current law requires that core zones must make up at least 75% of each protected area.
But in early 2014, four members of the Kyrgyz Parliament introduced a draft law that would reduce the core area of nature reserves and expand the buffer zone, allowing potentially damaging development to take place in a larger proportion of protected areas.
Exactly how much larger isn’t clear, because the draft law simply states that core areas should be a “certain size.”
“Reducing the size of core zones would be detrimental as it would allow more disturbance, livestock, trophy hunting, tourism developments, and mining which are already prevalent in the surrounding areas,” says Dr. Charu Mishra, director of Science and Conservation for the Snow Leopard Trust.
Snow leopards are found in eight out of ten State Reserves in Kyrgyzstan, and these protected areas play very important role in the survival of rare species.
For example, Snow Leopard Trust scientists estimate that 10 to 15 snow leopards currently inhabit the Sarychat-Ertash Reserve, located in an area where Trust scientific research and community-based conservation programs are ongoing.
“A smaller core zone wouldn’t be able to support that many cats, putting the snow leopard’s survival at risk in the country as a whole,” says Kubanych Zhumabai uulu, or “Kuban,” the Trust’s program director in Kyrgyzstan.
The Environment Committee rejected the proposed law at first, but when it was reintroduced this fall the Committee quickly approved it and sent it to the full Parliament for a vote.
Reserves are Safe – for Now
A group of conservationists including Kuban drafted a letter expressing concern about the proposal and the potential threat it could pose for snow leopards and other species. Sixty-eight local and 14 international organizations signed the letter, which was distributed to members of the Kyrgyz Parliament just before the law came up for a vote.
Parliament members found the letter persuasive and, fortunately, voted down the proposal, though the proposal can be voted on twice more before it is permanently rejected. The team of conservationists will continue to work with Parliament and environmental groups to ensure the future of snow leopards is not inadvertently compromised due to unfriendly changes in laws and policies.
Seattle / Islamabad, 12/4/2014
Snow Leopard Trust; Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan; Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department; Embassy of the United States in Islamabad, Pakistan; International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); Snow Leopard Conservancy
A young snow leopard that has been kept in a small cage on the side of Pakistan’s Karakoram highway for two years after being captured will get a suitable enclosure soon–part of an educational rehabilitation facility that will raise awareness for snow leopard conservation.
The life of a snow leopard cub in northern Pakistan is about to change for the better! Six major national and international partners–Snow Leopard Foundation, Parks and Wildlife Department, Gilgit-Baltistan, US State Department’s Embassy in Islamabad, IFAW, Snow Leopard Trust, and Snow Leopard Conservancy—are partnering together to construct a new and specially designed 11,000 square foot wildlife care facility—the first of its kind in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region.
On Dec. 31, 2012 local villagers found a wild snow leopard cub, only a few months old at the time, and took it with them in hopes of protecting it from harm. Soon after, the news was brought to the notice of Wildlife Department in Gilgit-Baltistan, one of Pakistan’s northernmost provinces.
However, facilities to care for dislocated wildlife are inadequate in the province, and subsequently the young snow leopard has been living in a small roadside cage. Exposed to heat, traffic emissions, and frequent provocation by onlookers, Dr. Ali Nawaz, head of the Snow Leopard Foundation of Pakistan, calls this “an untenable situation for this wild animal.
In collaboration with international experts at Nordens Ark, a leader in wildlife care and rescue, Jaffar Ud Din, program manager at the Snow Leopard Foundation, led the development of designs for a facility that will be a safe and healthy new home for the cat. Construction is set to begin at the selected location in Naltar Valley in early 2015. This new facility will also host a Wildlife Education Center, where the public can learn about the snow leopard, its ecosystem, and the threats it faces.
“The U.S. Mission to Pakistan welcomes the opportunity to support the Pakistani and American organizations protecting this at-risk cub. The snow leopard has been called a national heritage animal of Pakistan, and we are confident that this project will help to educate the next generation on wildlife protection and stewardship principles”,s says Ambassador Richard Olson.
Most ‘rescue’ attempts are harmful
“The cub will be an important intermediary and ambassador between local people and wildlife,” Ali Nawaz agrees. Since communities play a ‘front line’ role in wildlife conservation, lack of awareness and environmental sensitivity are considered prominent threats to wildlife.
Building both cooperation and greater awareness among local communities for conservation is an important step in protecting Pakistan’s snow leopard population in the long term.
“One of the Education Center’s main purposes is to help people understand that it’s almost always best to leave wildlife in the wild, even young cubs” says Brad Rutherford, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Executive Director.
Local people felt they needed to rescue this particular cub because they were worried it would die of exposure. However, Rutherford affirms that, “often, mothers will return for their babies even when it appears they might have abandoned them.”
“One of our aims through the education portion of the facility is to help people to understand and decipher when and why it is okay to leave animals in the wild—even if they seem to be lost”, he adds.
“We are very happy to contribute in this effort to ensure that the snow leopard gets an adequate quality of life,” says Katie Moore, IFAW Director of Animal Rescue. “It is our hope that her story carries an enduring message on the importance of leaving wildlife in the wild.”
The Wildlife Education Center will serve as an anchor for ongoing wildlife and habitat education and outreach activities in the area.
No candidate for release
After the cub’s capture nearly two years ago, the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department looked to international experts to consult on the possibility of releasing the young snow leopard back into the wild.
The decision was made against trying to release this particular cat, since she now lacks all of the skills necessary to hunt and fend for herself. It was then that the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department decided to reach out to domestic and international partners alike, to not only meet this cub’s immediate needs, but to increase institutional capacity for proactive management in order to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
“Gilgit-Baltistan is taken as the living museum for wildlife and hence encounter with wildlife in the wild is a common phenomena but we often come across embarrassing situations due to the unavailability of proper care and housing facility in the region, says Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, Conservator, Parks and Wildlife Department, Gilgit-Baltistan. “The current initiative will help boost conservation efforts in the region”, he adds.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy’s founder and director Dr. Rodney Jackson agrees:
“We believe every snow leopard deserves a better and more secure future. That being said, it is important to make sure local people in Pakistan, or anywhere else, will no longer separate a cub from its mother or remove it from the wild. We hope that this snow leopard will serve a useful role as an Ambassador animal, offering people who rarely see a snow leopard with the opportunity to marvel at its beauty and ensure other wild snow leopards are allowed to roam free from threats.”
Executive Director, Snow Leopard Trust
Leading the fight for the future of the endangered snow leopard in Pakistan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.
The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy is dedicated to promoting community-based stewardship of the endangered snow leopard, its prey, and its habitat by transforming human-wildlife conflict and ensuring local people view snow leopards positively rather than as threats to their livelihood.
Photos of the snow leopard cub and the planned enclosure’s location are available for download here (photo credit for all images: SLF Pakistan).
Every dollar given for snow leopards on #GivingTuesday is worth twice as much!
You, our amazing community of supporters, have come through in a huge way!
Here’s how much you’ve raised:
This full amount will be matched, for a total of $41,062!
With this money, we’ll be able to purchase 16 urgently needed research cameras AND cover the costs of deploying them for two new snow leopard landscape surveys this winter!
Lifting the Veil
Research cameras allow us to lift the veil on the snow leopard’s secret world. With the photos they take, we can estimate cat populations much more accurately than before, and we can observe how these populations change over time.
The information we’ve gained from these cameras has been crucial in protecting these endangered cats: in Mongolia, the data you helped us collect has convinced local authorities to grant Protected Area status to the Tost mountains, a snow leopard stronghold. In Kyrgyzstan, information gained through camera studies has been key in halting attempts to weaken the Sarychat reserve, one of the cats’ best habitats.
Our teams in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, but also in Pakistan, China, and India, have built the capacity to survey many new areas. They’ve trained local people to set up cameras, maintain them and collect photos. They’re ready to open even more windows into the snow leopard’s lives – all they need is more cameras!
Thank you for helping us seize this amazing opportunity to survey – and protect – yet another important piece of snow leopard habitat.
Thank you very much!
Villagers from small herding communities in Ladakh are teaming up with Snow Leopard Trust field staff to improve the corrals where they keep their livestock and reduce conflicts with snow leopards and other predators.
The remote Rong valley in Ladakh is home to a sizeable snow leopard population. It’s also dotted with small villages, most of which are inhabited by herder families. As snow leopards and other predators prey on these communities’ livestock, conflicts between people and wildlife are a fact of life in this region.
Last year, a team of Snow Leopard Trust researchers visited the village of Tarchit to assess the extent of these conflicts. During the day, all of Tarchit’s livestock were brought to pastures above the village by appointed herders to graze. However, the animals would spend the night unguarded in their owners’ corrals – where they regularly fell victim to predation.
Villagers reported losing about 70 goats and sheep to snow leopards in 2012 alone – almost 20% of the community’s total livestock holdings.
Predictably, attitudes toward the snow leopard weren’t too positive.
In previous years, our team had visited various other villages in Ladakh, and reactions were similar across the board. Now, they knew what needed to be done: Build better corrals!
After Snow Leopard Trust supporters provided the necessary funds in spring, our team went back to Tarchit this summer, loaded with construction materials such as wire mesh, poles and sturdy doors and frames for 17 new corrals – one for each Tarchit family with livestock. Together with the community, they built strong walls using local materials and affixed a wire-mesh on top with poles to support it.
The local community has promised to keep track of all predation to see how much of a difference these new corrals are making.
In the village of Skidmang, where our teams helped improve communal corrals the previous year, the effects are already being felt: While in 2012, 25 livestock had been killed inside their old corral, only 2 animals were lost in 2013, after the new corrals had been built – and both of those were taken out on the open pasture. The villagers are very pleased, and attitudes toward the cat that’s sharing their mountainous home are improving.
Before the big snowfalls cut Rong valley off from the rest of India, our team hopes to complete corrals in at least two more villages, if time and funds allow.
A family of wild snow leopards gets up to funny business in front of a remote-sensor research camera in Mongolia’s Nemegt mountains.