Progress for the endangered snow leopard! Range countries identify key landscapes to be protected, while Global Environmental Facility (GEF) approves a grant of $1 million for trans-boundary conservation projects.
At the Global Snow Leopard Forum, hosted by the President of Kyrgyzstan in October 2013, the snow leopard range countries had set the goal of securing 20 landscapes for the cats by 2020 – but many questions remained.
Would we really see 20 landscapes identified? When? Where would they be located? How big might they be?
This June, the countries met again at a workshop in the Kyrgyz Republic to take the next steps and answer these questions.
“At the workshop, the countries put all those question to rest by identifying 20 large landscapes to be secured – a total of more than 500,000 square kilometers” reports Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.
“It was clear from the beginning of the workshop that the countries were sincere in their commitment. The number and size of the identified landscapes is great. When it is all said and done I think we’ll see more than 20 landscapes identified, which really demonstrates their commitment to snow leopard conservation.”
More details on the landscapes will be made available soon.
The range countries also drafted 2 year action plans that specify the steps to be taken to define the landscapes and understand the current on the ground situation in each of the 20 landscapes.
The good news keep on coming – in the form of $1 million
Shortly after the Workshop concluded, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) approved a $1 million project to support initiatives at the Trans boundary landscape level.
They include knowledge generation and sharing among range countries, developing a monitoring framework for snow leopard ecosystems, and promoting financial sustainability and partnership across the range, particularly in the Central Asia region.
Building on the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program, which is a collaborative work of all, the project concept was put together by UNDP as the GEF Agency in a very short time frame, utilizing the GEF-5 resources for global and regional projects.
All involved hope this investment of GEF funds will leverage further resources to implement the important actions to conserve the snow leopard and the mountain ecosystem, and also help coordinate the country level initiatives that are planned with GEF and other funding.
The infusion of $1 million in GEF funds for snow leopard conservation gives everyone involved even more incentive to be successful.
“The development and implementation of the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program has been a challenge, but to date the results have exceeded expectations“, says Brad Rutherford. “The Program is definitely making progress towards its ultimate goal of Securing 20 or more landscapes by 2020.”
Newly published study on snow leopard population in Mongolia reveals stable numbers – and a puzzling shift in the cats’ gender ratio.
By Dr. Koustubh Sharma, Senior Regional Ecologist
In 2013, we began looking into the mystery of Tost’s missing male snow leopards.
We have been studying snow leopards in the Tost Mountains of Mongolia for over five years. There is no other snow leopard population in the wild that has been monitored for such a long period of time, which gives us the unique ability to look at population changes over time.
While preliminary data showed an adult population of 10-14 cats in our study site, in 2013 we started to see some vigorous underlying dynamics about how this population functions.
On the good side, the population has remained relatively stable over the past four years; indicating that the rate of immigration of new cats into the area, along with births, continues to offset the rates of mortality and snow leopard emigration out of our study site.
But digging deeper, there is something else brewing.
Over the last few years, the adult sex ratio appears to have changed considerably in favor of females. That means our big strong male snow leopards have been disappearing.
Is that normal or natural? Can this population survive with fewer males than females? Where do all the males go—and will they come back?
We had a tantalizing clue in fall 2013. Thanks to the support of our members, we were able to expand our study outwards and set out cameras in neighboring mountains to the north.
Who did we see but Agylach, a young male snow leopard that we had previously seen in Tost. Apparently, he felt the need to relocate, at least temporarily. Could these northern mountains be a piece of the ‘lost male’ puzzle?
It could be that males just don’t live as long as females due to high rates of competition and fighting. Or, like males of other big carnivores, they could be naturally more inclined to move and wander than females.
It could also be the case that males are more likely to attack livestock, making them more of a target for retribution killing by herders.
Right now these are all conjecture, but finding answers is paramount.
There could be threats facing males in particular, or wandering males could need greater protection of connected habitats. What’s certain is that we need to continue to monitor these snow leopards closely—and right now, we’re exploring even more nearby mountain chains.
Considering that throughout most of snow leopard range, even basic population estimates are still lacking, we have to admit we feel a little giddy (and spoiled) being able to learn so much, delve so deep, and make such truly incredible progress towards better understanding Mongolia’s cats.
Thank you for not only making this long-term study a reality, but enabling it to grow. In science, ‘surprises’ are usually the start of great achievement, and we are excited to see what answers we unlock next.
A manuscript of these findings has recently been published in PLoS One journal. Read the full scientific article here.
Press Release, July 16, 2014
In collaboration with the Kyrgyz government, the Snow Leopard Trust launches the Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program, awarding rangers and community members who successfully stop illegal hunting. The first conservation awards have recently been handed out.
Illegal hunting continues to be a threat to snow leopards and their equally endangered prey species in large parts of Central Asia. Through conservation agreements with communities the Trust has managed to minimize hunting instances by locals in many important snow leopard habitats.
However, many of the poachers, in countries like Kyrgyzstan, are resourceful businessmen, political figures or other influential outsiders, who aren’t part of these conservation agreements and are difficult for local people, and even park rangers to deal with.
“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers – but their efforts too often go unrecognized”, says Charu Mishra, the Trust’s Science and Conservation Director.
In a move to inspire and better appreciate the work of official rangers, and to encourage local people to collaborate with rangers to reduce illegal hunting, the Snow Leopard Trust and the Kyrgyz government have now launched the Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program.
It honors and financially rewards rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend poachers, and whose actions result in arrest or official fines being imposed on poachers. Over time, we also hope to better equip rangers, and liaise with law enforcement agencies to impart more training.
First Awards Were Handed Out
Last month, Toktosun uulu Urmat, a ranger in Sarychat-Ertash nature reserve, and Asanakunov Akil, a community member, jointly received the first award and citation under this initiative. They had apprehended hunters in Sarychat-Ertash; confiscated their guns and reported them to the authorities. They both received an official certificate and a shared cash bonus of 10,000 Kyrgyz soms.
“The two awardees were very proud and happy to see their work recognized in this way”, says Kuban.
In June, the Snow Leopard Trust signed a three-way Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the area of wildlife conservation with the Government of Kyrgyz Republic and Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (our Kyrgyz NGO partner Kyrgyzstan). This MoU will be active for 10 years and will strengthen our relationship with the Forestry Agency and other state organizations towards reaching our shared conservation goals.
The Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program was launched during an international snow leopard conservation workshop within the Global Snow Leopard Forum framework. A cross-section of the Kyrgyz Government, official delegates from 10 of the 12 snow leopard range countries, and a host of international organisations such as UNDP, GEF, USAID, Interpol, WWF, and snow leopard conservation organizations were present.
A perfect setting to celebrate conservation champions, says Charu Mishra: “Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program. This follow-up workshop to the Global Snow Leopard Forum was a fitting occasion to announce our partnership with the Government and for the hardworking rangers to be felicitated. People present just loved the idea and the initiative. It was really gratifying to receive the feedback, and for us, a fantastic bonus over and above a highly productive workshop.
This significant progress for snow leopards, a result of our long-term work in the Kyrgyz Republic, is made possible through the Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature, as well as the support and guidance of the Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle.
We asked and you responded!
Throughout the spring, we asked you to help fund important projects in India. We are thrilled to report that over 426 people made donations or adoptions –sending over $35,000 for projects this summer!
This means that the team in India can move forward with their ambitious plans to send over 300 kids to nature camp, build stronger corrals for over 30 families, and conduct vital research on the snow leopards.
Thank you to everyone who made this possible!
Securing Key Landscapes for the Iconic Cat Also Helps Livelihoods and Climate Resilience
BISHKEK, June 18, 2014 – Officials and experts from the snow leopard range countries came together to identify 20 mountain landscapes across Asia to be protected through intensive conservation efforts and green economic growth over the next 6 years. The delegates gathered at the pristine Lake Issyk‐Kul in the lap of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan Mountains.
This was a follow up to the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum held in October 2013, under the leadership of Almazbek Atambaev, President of the Kyrgyz Republic.
The workshop was the first followup collective action by the range countries and partners after adopting the Bishkek Declaration and endorsing the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection (GSLEP) Program during the Forum.
The countries agreed to develop landscape management plans to guide action to help conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, while enabling inclusive economic growth in these mountain landscapes. A third of humanity depends on clean water and other ecosystem services provided by the snow leopard mountains of Asia.
Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), congratulated the delegates for their resolve to secure 20 landscapes by 2020. “This is a significant first step in realizing the vision of snow leopard conservation and the inclusive growth of local communities shared by President Almazbek Atambayev, the snow leopard range countries, and the international conservation community.”
“The problem of snow leopard conservation is complicated and complex, and cannot be solved by the environmental agencies only. It requires personal participation of leaders of our countries on cross‐border cooperation, and involvement of various sectors of the economy and the private sector. The need of the hour is to coordinate the efforts of all the range states of the snow leopard, because our strength is in the unity of approaches and actions,” said Joomart Jumabekov, Head of the Department of Agriculture and Ecology of the Government Office of the Kyrgyz Republic.
The workshop was organized by the international working secretariat that has been established in Bishkek after the global forum to facilitate further development of the GSLEP Program among the range countries.
Sabir Atadjanov, Director of the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic remarked, “I am deeply grateful for the support of the range countries to the initiative of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic in holding the Global Forum on snow leopard conservation. I am pleased to announce the launch of Working Secretariat in Bishkek and pledge continued support to its activities. We also welcome and fully support the development of the first two‐year implementation plan with specific priorities within the GSLEP, including national and global priority actions for 2014‐15 as well as the development of key performance indicators.”
“It was an informative workshop which will lead the way towards the conservation of snow leopards, a species of global significance, while working towards improving the lives of local communities,” said Syed Mubarik Ali Shah, Chief Conservator Wildlife, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department, Pakistan.
Irina Fominykh, Deputy Director, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, said, “Our efforts to safeguard endangered flagship species and their habitats are strongly supported at the highest political levels in Russia, and we are happy to join forces and exchange knowledge with other range countries participating in the global programs such as on tigers and snow leopards. I am confident that the new Big Cats Project, now under preparation at the Russian Far East, South Siberia, and the Caucasus, will be an important building block of these efforts – nationally and globally.”
“Following our experience with the Global Tiger Initiative, the urgent task after the global forum is to start translating the strong political will into concrete ‘bankable’ projects with a measurable impact on the ground that could be supported by the range country governments, businesses, and the international community. The Issyk‐Kul meeting has indeed switched our conversation to a very concrete, project‐oriented mode,” emphasized Andrey Kushlin, Program Manager at the World Bank.
“UNDP, in consortium with other international organizations, has been supporting efforts of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic in conserving its biodiversity and natural heritage and in this regard it is riveting to see that within the scope of the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Programme, the range countries have actively embarked upon implementing specific locally tailored measures such as cross‐border cooperation and establishment of a reliable system of coordination and monitoring of the snow leopard habitats. Moreover, biodiversity conservation is prioritized in the National Strategy on Sustainable Development of the Kyrgyz Republic and I am confident that jointly we’ll achieve significant results towards conservation of these unique species,” said Alexander Avanessov, UN Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Mary Melnyk, Environment Team Leader for Asia at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said, “Snow leopard habitat overlaps the headwaters of Asia’s great rivers. USAID’s investment in their conservation has many benefits, including healthy lives and livelihoods for high‐mountain communities and a sustained water source for people living on farms and in towns and cities downstream, many of whom are extremely poor. Sustaining water supplies is critically important in a world experiencing climate change.”
Keshav Varma, Senior Advisor to the GSLEP Secretariat, underlined the strong sense of collective urgency, “Saving snow leopards is not just about the beautiful cats. Saving snow leopards also means preserving the heritage, livelihoods, and traditional ways of life of mountain cultures while bringing ecologically responsible economic development into their fragile landscapes, and we must act now.”
More than 40 delegates from 10 range countries and multiple international organizations participated in the workshop held from 6‐10 June, which included intensive sessions on landscape identification, management planning, law enforcement, and conservation leadership. Various organizations played a role, including the State Agency of Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, Global Environment Facility, Global Tiger Initiative, INTERPOL, NABU, Snow Leopard Network, Snow Leopard Trust, United Nations Development Programme, United States Agency for International Development, World Bank, and World Wide Fund for Nature.
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