Historically, people believed that the mountain ecosystem of Central Asia was so remote, that it would not be affected by human development. But as mankind continues to expand its reach, even the isolated mountains that make up snow leopard habitat are being affected.
The global demand for gold and coal is creating large open-pit mining operations throughout the mountain ranges where snow leopards are found. Mining companies use dynamite to create large pits, and lethal chemicals like cyanide, arsenic, and sulfuric acid to extract precious metals. The runoff from these sites heavily pollutes the local water sources and the mines themselves cause severe ecological damage that permanently alters the landscape. This damage also impacts the local residents of the area where mining takes place.
The Snow Leopard Trust protects snow leopards by engaging the people who share snow leopard habitat to reduce this ecological pressure. One important step is working with communities to create government supported protected areas where mining cannot take place.
In December 2010, the Snow Leopard Trust helped gain protected area status for 6689 km2 of prime snow leopard habitat in Mongolia. This permit will last for 7 years and cover an area that’s the size of Delaware or Luxembourg! Even better, this protected area created a wildlife corridor connecting two other national reserves, offering a chance for all wildlife in the area to safely move between important habitat.
Increase in Domestic Livestock
Additionally, the rise in the demand for cashmere (a fine wool from Central Asian goats) has lead to an unprecedented increase in the domestic goat population in snow leopard habitat areas. When livestock populations increase, competition for food between domestic animals and wild prey species also increases. When more livestock are present, snow leopards prey on domestic animals more often, creating conflict between the cats and the herders.
In order to reduce the conflict caused by increasing livestock, we have created conservation programs that offer livestock insurance and livestock vaccination. When livestock are insured, herders are reimbursed for animals lost to snow leopard predation. Livestock vaccinations create healthy herds that are more resilient to disease. This reduces the need to continuously grow herd size, and diminishes the effect of overgrazing. Herders who participate in these programs are also supported in their efforts to create graze-free reserves, where land is set aside specifically for the snow leopards wild prey.