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.