One of the key findings of the report is the fact that, despite the publication of 57 peer reviewed research papers in national or international journals that focus on snow leopard ecology or conservation in China, only 1.7% of the cat’s estimated range in the country has been surveyed systematically. This is still far from the target of 20%, proposed under the international effort to assess the world’s snow leopard population, PAWS.
“The snow leopard’s vast territory and the complex and diverse social and economic conditions in this make the study and protection of snow leopards in China difficult. Because of this, it’s impossible to give a perfect answer as to the cat’s current situation in the country”, says Dr. Xiao Lingyun, a snow leopard researcher at Peking University and lead author of the report. “Nevertheless, in this report, we’ve tried to summarize the existing information as best we could. We apologize for any shortcomings”, she adds.
The report, entitled “Status of Snow Leopard Survey and Conservation, China 2018” is the most comprehensive summary of research and conservation activities with a focus on the snow leopard in China to date.
“This report was put together by young people working on the frontlines of snow leopard conservation. They have gathered and collected all the existing information. Even though there may be some imperfections, it basically reflects our current level of knowledge about snow leopards and the present state of their conservation in China”, says Professor Lu Zhi of Peking University and Shan Shui Conservation Center. “What needs to be stressed is that this report was a collaborative effort by a number of organizations involved in snow leopard surveying and protection nationwide, and it really deserves praise.”
The report was produced in a joint effort by the Snow Leopard Network China (http://www.snowleopardchina.org/) – a network of national academic groups and NGOs including the Snow Leopard Trust’s China partner; Shan Shui Conservation Center, the Research Centre for Nature Conservation and Social Development of Peking University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Vanke Foundation, Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Centre, Green River, Xinjiang, WCS, and WWF.
“We’re seeing a growing number of national organizations and universities working together on snow leopard conservation in China”, says Dr. Justine Shanti Alexander, a Snow Leopard Trust ecologist who is working closely with our partners in China, Shan Shui Conservation Center. “However the challenge of scale calls for even greater effort in partnership with all concerned.”
The report also assesses potential threats to snow leopards across their range in China, and finds that they vary quite a bit by province. For example, in Qinghai Province, stray dogs have become a major threat to snow leopards, mostly due to the collapse of the Tibetan Mastiff market and the subsequent abandonment of many dogs. In Tibet, on the other hand, the impact of climate change could be most significant, as glaciers and frozen soils melt.
Sichuan province, meanwhile, faces a significant gap between pressures of economic development and environmental protection, with high rates of population growth and poverty posing major challenges. In Xinjiang, which borders eight different countries, international borders have led to fragmentation of snow leopard, and the current lack of cross-border cooperation is a major threat.
Linxia, in Gansu province, was identified as a wild animal fur trading center, and illegal hunting of snow leopards and prey is a key threat in this area.
“These results illustrate how different threats can vary within one snow leopard range country, and how each area requires targeted protection measures to deal with them”, says Justine Shanti Alexander.
Tracing Conservation Efforts
Snow leopard research and conservation activities in China have come a long way. First studies were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, around the year 2000, Ma Ming, a lecturer at the Xinjiang Institute of Bioscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences, took the lead in promoting the investigation of the snow leopard in Xinjiang province. Around the same time, Li Diqiang of the Chinese Academy of Forestry also conducted a genetic study of snow leopards. In 2008, the first “Global Snow Leopard Survival Strategy Seminar” was held in Beijing and provided a further boost to snow leopard research in China. After the seminar, Professor Shi Kun of Beijing Forestry University began to study the species in Gansu and Xinjiang provinces, while a team at Peking University and local NGO Shan Shui under the guidance of Professor Lu Zhi began working on research and conservation programs in Sanjiangyuan, in Qinghai province.
Over the years, these efforts have grown, and a number of number of domestic civil society organizations dedicated to the conservation of snow leopards have emerged, such as the Sichuan Green River Environmental Protection Promotion Association, the Cat League CFCA, and the Everest Snow Leopard Protection Center.
In 2015, the first International Snow Leopard Forum was held in Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Shortly thereafter, relevant government agencies, protected area administrations, research teams and NGOs participating in the forum jointly launched the “China Snow Leopard Protection Network”. This informal network aims at unifying scientific and technical standards in research, and exchange of information. Further events in Xinjiang and Yushu followed, as well as an International Snow Leopard Conference in Shenzhen in September 2018.
The release of the new snow leopard status is the most recent culmination of the China Snow Leopard Protection Network’s efforts.