Herder families sometimes lose up to five times more livestock to disease than to snow leopard predation.
When we discovered this fact as we were surveying herders for a study on threats the cats were facing in Pakistan, the idea of a livestock vaccination program was born.
These herding communities depend heavily on their livestock for food and income, and even one lost animal can cause a severe economic hardship. Access to animal vaccinations was very limited, however, and there was little herders could do to prevent disease from spreading.
Unfortunately, the poisons and traps used to harm snow leopards were more easily found, creating a serious threat to the cats.
To solve this problem, the Snow Leopard Trust began livestock vaccination programs to provide vaccines for herding communities at little to no cost.
In order to participate, each herding family must sign an agreement to protect nearby snow leopards and their wild prey species from poaching.
Herders also agree to limit the size of their herds to a number established in collaboration with Snow Leopard Trust conservationists. Any additional animals can be sold at local markets, providing a new source of income that herders’ use for food, medicine and other basic necessities.
Because herd sizes are limited, fewer domestic animals compete with wild sheep and goats for food. This provides the snow leopard’s wild prey species the opportunity to increase in number. With more wild prey available, snow leopards populations are able to increase as well.
By participating in these programs, herders gain healthier, more resilient herds and the opportunity to earn additional income. The economic pressures they once faced are alleviated, and herders are better able to tolerate occasional snow leopard predation.
As attitudes towards snow leopards become more positive, the motivation to harm snow leopards is drastically reduced.