Pakistan may be home to around 200 snow leopards, living in three mountains provinces: Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Like their brethren elsewhere in their range, Pakistan’s snow leopards face severe threats such as poaching and retaliation killings and the loss of prey and habitat.
While Pakistan’s mountains are crisscrossed by an extensive protected area network, these protected areas are fragmented and not fully representative of the wide variety of habitat types and ecosystems within the snow leopard habitat. Both inside and outside of the protected areas, there are conservation conflicts with local communities who are faced with economic hardships and whose livelihoods depend largely on livestock grazing.
Government agencies as well as NGOs like our local partner organization, the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan (SLF), are working hard to address threats to snow leopards and their ecosystems in Pakistan. But there remains a lack of coordination and information sharing among the various agencies and stakeholders that are interested in protecting this important habitat, and a lack of skills and capacity among wildlife managers and researchers for wildlife population monitoring, crime detection and conservation decision-making.
The “Pakistan Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program” (PSLEP) aims to address these problems by promoting an integrated landscape-wide approach for the survival of snow leopard and its prey species by reducing threats and applying sustainable land and forest management in critical habitats in northern Pakistan.
The program was launched this August during an inception workshop in Islamabad. Inspector General Forests Ministry of Climate Change Syed Mahmood Nasir was the chief guest at the event, which was jointly organized by Ministry of Climate Change, UNDP-Pakistan and Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF). In his address, Mr. Nasir emphasized the role of snow leopards as symbols of healthy ecosystem, and how their conservation benefits everyone, including local people.
The Pakistan Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program is funded through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and will be implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and executed by Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate and Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF). The governments of the three concerned provinces will also be playing a major role though; especially through their Forest and Wildlife Departments.
The program in Pakistan ties into to global efforts to better protect snow leopards under the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP).
Over the past months, SLF had met with the relevant departments in all three provinces to work out Memoranda of Understanding and discuss project roles. In all three provinces, officials assured their support for the project, and expressed the hope that it will be beneficial to ecosystems, wildlife and local communities.
“The preparations are done, and we have a work plan for the rest of the year that all stakeholders agree on. Now, we can start implementing things on the ground”, says Dr. Ali Nawaz, the Director of Snow Leopard Foundation.
“One of the main component of this project is about trainings and capacity building of staff from Wildlife Departments. This will ensure that the staff is fully equipped and trained to take over the project after a specific period defined in the project timelines”, Dr. Nawaz added.
Over the next five years, the project aims to improve conservation management, monitoring and coordination in the snow leopard landscapes of Pakistan; to strengthen and grow the Protected Area network to improved representation of priority snow leopard habitats; and to reduce human-wildlife conflicts and improve local communities’ livelihoods.