NEWS

Saving Snow Leopards in Baltistan

Nov 13, 2017 2:01 pm
This fall, we take you behind the scenes with our long-time partners in Pakistan whose work is made possible by your support. Thank you!
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When Shafqat Hussain was a boy, growing up in the lowlands of Pakistan, his schoolmates called him Jungly—wild man.  
 

Shafqat Hussain warming a goat kid

Shafqat Hussain warming a goat kid

At the same time, Ghulam Mohammad was growing up in a small village high in the Karakorum Mountains. Being a strong child, he was sent to the pastures to tend the livestock—a job more important than attending school. When a flood destroyed half his village, Ghulam’s family moved to the town of Skardu on the Indus River. With no livestock to tend, Ghulam enrolled in primary school and thus began to satisfy his curiosity and passion for education. 

The two men met in Baltistan shortly before Shafqat launched Project Snow Leopard in 1998. Livestock insurance was the initial focus in a region where households earn about $500/year. A family’s herds are the equivalent of their life savings. Shafqat founded Full Moon Night Trekking whose profits would supplement the premiums paid by herders, based on 1% of the value of one goat. This program earned Shafqat a Rolex Associate Laureate Award in 2006. 

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A key aspect of Project Snow Leopard’s success is local participation at every level, including control of the income from their eco-tourism enterprise, Full Moon Night Trekking. This aerial view of Skardu illustrates the attraction of Pakistan’s northern areas to mountain climbers and other hardy adventure travelers.

The Snow Leopard Conservancy and Project Snow Leopard have collaborated since 2003. Your donor dollars have enabled conservation action reaching seventeen villages. The program now operates under the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO). With Ghulam serving as General Manager, Shafqat remains as a board member and advisor. 

Fifty livestock corrals have been made secure from nighttime raiding by snow leopards or wolves.

Predator-proofed corrals help keep snow leopards alive.

Predator-proofed corrals help keep snow leopards alive.

BWCDO was one of fifteen recipients—the first ever from Pakistan—to be honored with a 2017 Equator Prize, awarded by the United Nations Development Programme, recognizing outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

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This beauty was filmed this past April by one of Ghulam’s trail cameras. Click here to see the video.

Ghulam described seeing his first wild snow leopard in winter 2011.  

“I was fixing a camera trap in a village where there had been predation by snow leopards. When I started to return home, I realized I had forgotten to switch on the camera. It was dark when I got back; I turned on my torch and saw the snow leopard right there eating the goat it had earlier killed. I was so excited to see it front of me just a few meters away. My companion was scared, but I did not feel any fear.”

We asked Ghulam how he came to be a champion of snow leopards.

“Since I started school late, I was only in 6th class when my parents arranged my marriage and I became a husband. I was sixteen years old. My wife was very supportive, and I was able to attend high school in Karachi.”

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Ghulam setting a trail camera

“Before I joined BWCDO, I worked as a research assistant with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. Seeing ibex from our forest hut triggered my interest in wildlife and issues related to conservation. I realized that I could combine my interest with service to the region. It is a kind of dream come true for me because it became part of my job and part of my identity. I feel proud to be part of snow leopard conservation. People know me as Snow Leopard Man.”

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Environmental Education is a major focus of BWCDO’s mission. Over the past thirteen years, Ghulam (far right) has trained teachers and conducted activities throughout Baltistan that promote awareness of snow leopards and the mountain ecosystem. Since 2015, he has spearheaded International Snow Leopard Day celebrations, bringing the community together with teachers and students from area schools.

“We are grateful,” says Ghulam,”for the Conservancy’s long-standing financial and technical support, and we extend sincere thanks to all the donors who are helping to save the beautiful snow leopards of beautiful Baltistan.”

Please help us ensure that the Snow Leopard Conservancy can continue to support this vital work, along with our other community-based programs aimed at helping indigenous people take the forefront in preserving their natural heritage.

We cannot do it without you!

Thank you,

RJSig-HiRes

Founder-Director

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International Snow Leopard Day 2017

Oct 23, 2017 7:01 am

BurrowingOwlDonBrubakerWSFWS article aWe dedicate this International Snow Leopard Day 2017 to Community.  Most importantly, to the communities who are on the front lines of snow leopard conservation in Central Asia. But also to our own community here in Boyes Hot Springs where the Snow Leopard Conservancy is based. We are so grateful that our small office, our home, and indeed the whole neighborhood were saved from the wildfire inferno this past two weeks. We grieve with our larger community for what was lost, more than 5,700 homes and businesses.  Not to diminish the human toll, our thoughts go out to our Sonoma County bio-community, the magnificent Manzanita chaparral, the venerable oaks, bay laurel, and big leaf maple, the birds, black bears, and bobcats, deer, squirrels, and skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and mountain lions—the toll on our wild spirits and wild places remains unknown.  We celebrate the signs of hope where we know there are unburned patches that would serve as refuge, and in this little burrowing owl who emerged from burned grassland in southern Sonoma County, photographed by Don Brubaker, USFWS – Refuges. Thanks to all of you who sent us words of encouragement and support…..Dr. Rodney Jackson and the Snow Leopard Conservancy Team.

 

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Snow Leopards Feature in Jackson Hole Conservation Summit

Sep 23, 2017 9:18 pm

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The 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens this weekend, and our Founder-Director, Rodney Jackson, will be there to represent the snow leopard.

An annual 5-day event taking place in the Grand Teton National Park, this Festival provides a platform for a gathering of broadcast and media stakeholders, writers, leading scientists, and conservationists, to celebrate excellence and exchange ideas on aspects of wildlife conservation.

This year’s Conservation Summit, which opens the Festival on September 24, is devoted to the wild cats of the world, giving advocates, researchers, and media industry representatives an opportunity to focus on the issues and challenges facing these beautiful creatures and their habitats; both of which are under threat.

On Sunday, September 24, Rodney will deliver a presentation entitled Landscapes and Corridors. “Roaming vast areas in one of Earth’s least populated places,” he says, “the iconic snow leopard is perhaps the prime example of a Big Cat of remote and rugged mountain landscapes that makes its presence felt, if unseen.”

On the theme of “What would success look like,” Rodney will provide a brief background to the regions which are home to the snow leopard, the threats to its existence and that of its habitat, and outline the efforts being made to counter these challenges.  These efforts revolve mainly around the reduction of human-wildlife conflict and the importance of educating the indigenous communities on the value of conserving both the snow leopard and its natural terrain.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and Conservation Summit will be held at Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park from September 24 to 29.  To find out more about this Festival, visit the Jackson Hole Festival website.

 

Photos courtesy of Peter Bolliger

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Snow Leopards No Longer Considered “Endangered,” But Scientists Urge Extreme Caution

Sep 14, 2017 8:00 am

Photo Courtesy of Steve Tracy

Photo Courtesy of Steve Tracy

New IUCN Red List Assessment Classifies Snow Leopards as “Vulnerable” to Extinction, One Step Up From “Endangered”

(New York, NY – September 14) The mysterious snow leopard has been delivered a piece of good news. The Red List classification from the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN – improves the conservation status of the big cat from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable.” Yet these iconic symbols of Asia’s great mountain wilderness still face numerous threats, many rapidly growing, in their high mountain home. The snow leopard was listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List –the globally accepted, international standard for assessing extinction risk—for each 5‐10 year assessment since its initial listing in 1972. The change in status came after a three‐year assessment process by five international experts including scientists from academia and from Panthera, Snow Leopard Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society, organizations active in snow leopard conservation. The assessment was then reviewed and approved by eight international felid and Red List assessments experts, the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment team, and the central Red List Unit.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program and a member of the assessment team, said, “To be considered ‘Endangered,’ there must be less than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline. Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leopards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate. The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’ and is likely still declining – just not at the rate previously thought.”

 The assessment cites a number of recent studies that used more scientifically robust methods than in the past and which suggest snow leopard numbers are likely higher than previously thought. Dr. Rodney Jackson, Founder and Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and another member of the assessment team, said, “Even with such positive supportive information, the assessment team took a conservative approach, including using the lowest estimated global population size of 4,000 when determining if the Endangered threshold could be met.”

One of the reasons that snow leopard status has improved is greatly increased conservation efforts. Dr. David Mallon, snow leopard expert and member of the assessment team, points out that in the last few decades there has been a significant increase in the number of protected areas within the snow leopard range. The species range is extensive, and covers more than 1.8 million square kilometers of mountain habitat in 12 range countries across Asia. Dr. Jackson stressed that local initiatives such as community ranger monitoring efforts and the building of predator-proof corrals to control conflict over livestock losses are helping to protect the cats from retaliatory killing in many locations.

The snow leopard is the top predator of the world’s greatest mountain chains – the Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Tien Shan, Altai, and other mountain regions of Asia. Unfortunately, even in these near-inaccessible mountains, the snow leopard faces numerous threats.

“Continuing threats include poaching for its thick fur and overhunting of its wild prey,” said Peter Zahler, Coordinator of the WCS Snow Leopard Program and also on the assessment team. “There is also an increasing number of domestic livestock raised by local people in these high mountains that degrades the delicate grasslands, disturbs wild sheep and goats and drives them into less productive habitats.” Zahler pointed out that this can also lead to disease outbreaks in wild sheep and goats due to transmission of novel pathogens from their domestic counterparts. “The loss of wild prey can lead to attacks on domestic stock, which itself can lead to retaliatory killing of snow leopards by local shepherds,” Zahler said.

Zahler added, “It is important that a change in status is not misinterpreted – this change does not mean that the snow leopard has been ‘saved’ and efforts on its behalf can stop. The IUCN’s Vulnerable status means a species is still vulnerable to extinction, and the snow leopard population is still believed to be in decline and facing a high risk of extinction. Threats – poaching, habitat destruction, loss of prey species – still exist and new threats such as roads, border fences, and climate change, are increasing.  So conservation actions must continue and be increased to conserve the species.”

About Panthera – Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 36 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.

About Snow Leopard Conservancy – SLC, founded in 2000 by Dr. Rodney Jackson and Ms. Darla Hillard, aims to secure the survival of the snow leopard, by conserving its mountain habitat, enhancing local livelihoods and alleviating the human-wildlife conflict which threatens its existence. By blending traditional knowledge with modern science, SLC works in partnership with local people, to increase environmental awareness, advance grassroots conservation initiatives and involve them in non-invasive monitoring of snow leopards. By developing an appreciation for this wild cat, the ultimate goal of the Conservancy is to turn conflict into coexistence.  Visit snowleopardconservancy.org.

About Wildlife Conservation Society – WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. WCS has been a global leader on snow leopard conservation since the 1970s, with current programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Visit wcs.newsroom.org. For more information: 347‐840‐1242.

 

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International Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Forum

Aug 27, 2017 7:57 pm

Creating Space for the Sacred Snow Leopard – Continued

Blog Article Written by Darla Hillard

Rodney is just back from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he attended the second International Forum (and mid-term meeting) of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP).  

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Almagul Osmanova, Kyrgyzstan Country Coordinator for the LOSL Network and Dr. Rodney Jackson at the GSLEP Forum

For the Conservancy-facilitated Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network, this meeting was the first opportunity to demonstrate to both the western scientific community and the general public that indigenous communities are materially participating in the protection of snow leopards. Across Central Asia, snow leopards are seen by indigenous cultures as totem animals – community protectors and unifiers of humanity. This simple but powerful fact was the catalyst for creation of our LOSL Network.

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As part of the forum activities, a Science Exposition & Symposium took place each day, funded by USAID. Participating NGOs had booths highlighting the latest research, conservation, and development activities being undertaken across the snow leopard range.

Altantsetseg Tsedendamba, Assistant to Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Almagul Osmanova, Director, Taalim Forum NGO

Altantsetseg Tsedendamba, Assistant to Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Almagul Osmanova, Director, Taalim Forum NGO

Our LOSL Network demonstrated that we are monitoring wildlife and collecting data in a way that supports the needs of local communities and the GSLEP’s goals. Please see our July blog to learn more about our special LOSL App.

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Symposium speakers explored such themes as climate change, new technologies, field studies, sustainable financing, and community-based conservation. Norbu Ayusheev, Soyot Khambo Lama, traveled from Buryiata, Russia, to represent the LOSL Network in his talk on the role of ICPs in snow leopard conservation.   

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The Exposition concluded with public activities in a local park. LOSL Network member Kuluipa Akmatova, program director for the NGO Rural Development Fund, brought a group of young people from Talas (where we held our workshop earlier this year) to perform a play. Traditional stories and legends are vital to the survival of indigenous cultures. As our Network members have pointed out, data is not necessarily numbers; a story handed down through the generations can be equally powerful data. The young performers’ story features a poacher who kills a snow leopard. Afterwards, his family suffers a huge tragedy – the death of a loved one or the loss of an investment that plunges the family into poverty.  

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Stories such as this become data when we discover that they are common to communities in Tajikistan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. As the play illustrates, stories can be utilized in many ways to strengthen cultural awareness and improve cultural components of environmental education curricula. 

Thus the LOSL also demonstrated practical applications of one of the GSLEP Declaration’s principles:

“We, the Representatives of the Governments of the range countries recognize the uniqueness and the special value of this alliance and partnership by endorsing the Bishkek Declaration 2017 that demonstrates our determination to conserve the snow leopard populations in the wild and ensure the cultural, social, and economic well-being of the mountain communities.”

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