WWF calls for integrated approach to preserve snow leopard habitat



The International Snow Leopard Summit and Ecosystem Forum held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan from August 23-25 ended Friday with a declaration that focused on WWF’s (World Wide Fund for Nature) call for an integrated approach to preserve snow leopard habitat. The Bishkek declaration called upon the world leaders from the 12 snow leopard range countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) to bolster previous commitments or risk irreversible damage to both the species and landscape.

The summit was held after four years since the range countries first met in 2013, where they committed to an ambitious goal of securing 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020 — three of which fall in Pakistan. This has brought the plight of this iconic species into the spotlight and created hope that this commitment from the range country governments could set an example of conservation success worldwide. However, as we pass the half-way point, there remain as few as 4,000 snow leopards and its habitat, which is home to the headwaters of 20 major rivers in Asia and known as the ‘world’s water towers’, continues to shrink.

Speaking on the last day of the summit, WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini said, “The snow leopard range countries could write one of the greatest success stories of modern conservation. They have made promising progress to begin safeguarding the 20 landscapes by 2020 but we now reach a critical check point. Efforts must be increased or the goal will not be achieved, with snow leopards and local communities feeling the consequences.”

“This summit sets the stage for snow leopard range states to raise the bar and take strong action now to prevent permanent damage and build resilience for snow leopards and their habitats, alongside the ambitions of also developing local economies and livelihoods. ‘Appreciating the countless bounties that nature provides and firmly remembering that the fate of humanity is closely intertwined with nature is crucial for the future of our living planet. Securing the future of snow leopards, the undisputed symbol of the high mountains of Asia, is a part of acknowledging not just our interdependence but our moral responsibility towards nature,” Lambertini added.

The summit provided a unique and rare opportunity to address two of the greatest emerging threats for the snow leopards and its vital habitat; climate change and unsustainable infrastructure development, both of which transcend far beyond political borders of countries and need a united approach to succeed. Recent research suggests that climate change could wipe out more than two thirds of snow leopard habitat in the next fifty years. This, coupled with infrastructure projects which could cut ribbons across many of the snow leopard landscapes, means the coming years will push the species even closer to the brink of survival.

According to a survey carried out in 2013 by the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme (GSLEP), climate change and habitat loss due to human activities were termed as the main reasons behind the decline of numbers in snow leopard population. In Pakistan Human Wildlife conflict has been termed as the major cause of the dwindling numbers, which according to a recent estimate stands between 240–400, left in the wild.

WWF-Pakistan has been playing a crucial role in spreading awareness and taking direct action for the conservation of snow Leopard within its 80,000 km habitat in the country. The organisation has been training locals against direct and indirect killings of the species through effective watch and guard system and has established a compensatory livestock insurance scheme to avoid retaliatory killings of the snow leopard and other predators.

A joint global petition from WWF, Snow Leopard Trust and NABU, was also presented at the summit which garnered support from an unprecedented 202,349 people, including Academy Award winning actor, and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio calling for increased efforts in tackling major threats to the species.