Seattle / Islamabad, 12/4/2014
Snow Leopard Trust; Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan; Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department; Embassy of the United States in Islamabad, Pakistan; International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); Snow Leopard Conservancy
A young snow leopard that has been kept in a small cage on the side of Pakistan’s Karakoram highway for two years after being captured will get a suitable enclosure soon–part of an educational rehabilitation facility that will raise awareness for snow leopard conservation.
The life of a snow leopard cub in northern Pakistan is about to change for the better! Six major national and international partners–Snow Leopard Foundation, Parks and Wildlife Department, Gilgit-Baltistan, US State Department’s Embassy in Islamabad, IFAW, Snow Leopard Trust, and Snow Leopard Conservancy—are partnering together to construct a new and specially designed 11,000 square foot wildlife care facility—the first of its kind in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region.
On Dec. 31, 2012 local villagers found a wild snow leopard cub, only a few months old at the time, and took it with them in hopes of protecting it from harm. Soon after, the news was brought to the notice of Wildlife Department in Gilgit-Baltistan, one of Pakistan’s northernmost provinces.
However, facilities to care for dislocated wildlife are inadequate in the province, and subsequently the young snow leopard has been living in a small roadside cage. Exposed to heat, traffic emissions, and frequent provocation by onlookers, Dr. Ali Nawaz, head of the Snow Leopard Foundation of Pakistan, calls this “an untenable situation for this wild animal.
In collaboration with international experts at Nordens Ark, a leader in wildlife care and rescue, Jaffar Ud Din, program manager at the Snow Leopard Foundation, led the development of designs for a facility that will be a safe and healthy new home for the cat. Construction is set to begin at the selected location in Naltar Valley in early 2015. This new facility will also host a Wildlife Education Center, where the public can learn about the snow leopard, its ecosystem, and the threats it faces.
“The U.S. Mission to Pakistan welcomes the opportunity to support the Pakistani and American organizations protecting this at-risk cub. The snow leopard has been called a national heritage animal of Pakistan, and we are confident that this project will help to educate the next generation on wildlife protection and stewardship principles”,s says Ambassador Richard Olson.
Most ‘rescue’ attempts are harmful
“The cub will be an important intermediary and ambassador between local people and wildlife,” Ali Nawaz agrees. Since communities play a ‘front line’ role in wildlife conservation, lack of awareness and environmental sensitivity are considered prominent threats to wildlife.
Building both cooperation and greater awareness among local communities for conservation is an important step in protecting Pakistan’s snow leopard population in the long term.
“One of the Education Center’s main purposes is to help people understand that it’s almost always best to leave wildlife in the wild, even young cubs” says Brad Rutherford, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Executive Director.
Local people felt they needed to rescue this particular cub because they were worried it would die of exposure. However, Rutherford affirms that, “often, mothers will return for their babies even when it appears they might have abandoned them.”
“One of our aims through the education portion of the facility is to help people to understand and decipher when and why it is okay to leave animals in the wild—even if they seem to be lost”, he adds.
“We are very happy to contribute in this effort to ensure that the snow leopard gets an adequate quality of life,” says Katie Moore, IFAW Director of Animal Rescue. “It is our hope that her story carries an enduring message on the importance of leaving wildlife in the wild.”
The Wildlife Education Center will serve as an anchor for ongoing wildlife and habitat education and outreach activities in the area.
No candidate for release
After the cub’s capture nearly two years ago, the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department looked to international experts to consult on the possibility of releasing the young snow leopard back into the wild.
The decision was made against trying to release this particular cat, since she now lacks all of the skills necessary to hunt and fend for herself. It was then that the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department decided to reach out to domestic and international partners alike, to not only meet this cub’s immediate needs, but to increase institutional capacity for proactive management in order to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
“Gilgit-Baltistan is taken as the living museum for wildlife and hence encounter with wildlife in the wild is a common phenomena but we often come across embarrassing situations due to the unavailability of proper care and housing facility in the region, says Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, Conservator, Parks and Wildlife Department, Gilgit-Baltistan. “The current initiative will help boost conservation efforts in the region”, he adds.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy’s founder and director Dr. Rodney Jackson agrees:
“We believe every snow leopard deserves a better and more secure future. That being said, it is important to make sure local people in Pakistan, or anywhere else, will no longer separate a cub from its mother or remove it from the wild. We hope that this snow leopard will serve a useful role as an Ambassador animal, offering people who rarely see a snow leopard with the opportunity to marvel at its beauty and ensure other wild snow leopards are allowed to roam free from threats.”
Executive Director, Snow Leopard Trust
Leading the fight for the future of the endangered snow leopard in Pakistan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.
The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy is dedicated to promoting community-based stewardship of the endangered snow leopard, its prey, and its habitat by transforming human-wildlife conflict and ensuring local people view snow leopards positively rather than as threats to their livelihood.
Photos of the snow leopard cub and the planned enclosure’s location are available for download here (photo credit for all images: SLF Pakistan).