Some herder families in snow leopard habitat lose up to five times more livestock to diseases than to predation.
Livestock is critical to most families in snow leopard habitat. For many, it’s their only source of income. When diseases spread, the consequences can be devastating. Access to vaccination and animal health services is very limited in many of these regions, and trained veterinary professionals are far and few between.
The livestock vaccination and ecosystem health program helps solve that problem by offering vaccines and animal husbandry trainings in snow leopard communities. An independent review has shown that the program has reduced mortality rates among livestock by up to 50%.
When our team in Pakistan surveyed herders about their attitudes toward snow leopards, and potential problems they were facing in connection with the cat, they made a surprising discovery: While predation was a concern for many, they actually lost significantly more livestock to diseases. In some areas five times as much.
These herding communities depend heavily on their livestock for food and income, and even one lost animal can cause a severe economic hardship. Veterinary services and vaccines were difficult to come by, and there was little these herders could do to prevent disease from spreading. On the other hand, it was comparatively easy to get access to the traps and weapons needed to eliminate the source of the predation problem, which created a serious threat to snow leopards.
In addition, diseases can be transmitted from livestock to wild snow leopard prey species; putting the cats’ main food source in jeopardy
Our team saw an opportunity to make a difference for these herders and the ecosystem, and to create a lot of goodwill and tolerance for the snow leopard in the process, and the idea of a livestock vaccination program was born.
The program provides animal husbandry trainings and 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 populations the opportunity to grow. 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.
In addition, the cats’ primary food source – wild ungulates – are much less likely to contract diseases from livestock, adding another layer of conservation benefits to this program.
Facts & Figures
- Around 6,000 households in 19 communities in two provinces of Pakistan participate in the program
- More than 175,000 vaccines were administered in 2015
- Livestock mortality in program communities has been reduced by 50%