In northern Pakistan, where local herders and snow leopards both vie for survival, it’s not uncommon that snow leopards come out losing. Earlier this year, when a snow leopard was captured by villagers in the community of Misgar, in Pakistan’s northernmost province, we feared the worst.
Misgar is a small village nestled among the steep crags of the great Karakoram Mountains, where families have been raising livestock for over 200 years. Once a gateway to the ancient Silk Road, today Misgar is perched at the crossroads of four international borders: Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.
This area represents some of the most pristine habitat for snow leopards, brown bear, Marco Polo sheep, and ibex—favored snow leopard prey. Three years ago, snow leopards were photographed at 15 separate camera stations in Misgar, among the highest photo- capture rates recorded in the country.
Unfortunately, the valley also has one of the highest rates of human- cat conflicts in Pakistan. Dr. Ali Nawaz, director of our Pakistan partner, Snow Leopard Foundation, is understanding: “Families here are largely dependent on livestock herding, so the economic loss caused by depredation is especially difficult for Misgar’s farmers, and naturally causes hostility towards snow leopards.”
At 6 p.m. on February 22, 2017, Mr. Shah, secretary for a Misgar community organization, informed the provincial wildlife department and Snow Leopard Foundation about the capture of an adult snow leopard. Major government and NGO stakeholders immediately jumped into action to work on solutions and meet with the community.
What they found was startling. Mr. Attaullah, the community leader, said the snow leopard had been roaming the valley for the last two months and had, along with three other cats, killed over 250 head of livestock, including yaks, sheep, and goats. Four young village men had been assigned the task of tracking the cats and preparing a cage.
After two tense days of negotiations, conservation teams were not only able to secure the safe release of the cat, but to initiate conservation programs that will hopefully turn the future around for the snow leopards of this remote area. In a crucial decision, Snow Leopard Foundation committed to help Misgar families start their first community-run livestock insurance program, enabling herders who insure livestock against snow leopard attacks to receive reimbursement for their losses.
Snow Leopard Foundation and Snow Leopard Trust are currently establishing an insurance fund with donor seed monies, so the community can start the program right away without having to wait months or years for their premiums to accrue.
“This is where our donors are really pivotal,” – Michael Despines, Snow Leopard Trust Executive Director.
“Thanks to our donors’ support, we were able to react fast and get the community the funds they need to protect snow leopards”, Michael Despines says.
On February 24, 2017, Misgar community members safely released the snow leopard back into the wild. While shooting, trapping, and poisoning snow leopards have been a common practice in Misgar for generations, this moment highlighted a significant change.
“In contrast to previous aggressive behavior,” Ali explained, “the community representatives have since expressed a positive attitude towards the cat.“ They said ‘this is our snow leopard and we would like to keep it in our valley. “
“This is a positive shift for the people of Misgar, and it could mean a secure future for snow leopards in this area.” – Dr. Ali Nawaz, Director of Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan.
Snow leopards will continue to attack and kill livestock if they can, and villagers will do what they have to do in order to protect their herds. This is why your support will be so critical when the next cat is captured by desperate villagers. You can help us find solutions like the one in Misgar that keeps snow leopards alive.
Please consider making a donation towards these programs this fall.