Threats

Snow leopards share their range with pastoral communities who also require healthy rangelands to sustain their livestock and livelihoods. Moreover, these high altitude mountains and plateaus provide invaluable ecosystem services through carbon storage in peat lands and grasslands, and serve as Asia’s ‘water towers’, providing fresh water for hundreds of millions of people living downstream in Central, East, and South Asia. But the pace of rural development has increased, opening up previously remote parts of snow leopard range, livestock grazing has expanded and intensified, and new factors have emerged that may threaten the future of snow leopards and their habitat, e.g., notably increased resource exploitation and climate change; all of which have created new challenges for snow leopard conservation.

Snow Leopard Network (2014). Snow Leopard Survival Strategy. Revised 2014 Version Snow Leopard Network, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Herder Poster

This original  4×2′ thangka (traditional Buddhist sacred art) by artist Leslie Nguyen depicts two differing paradigms.  The picture shows the “Valley of Harmony” at the top, and the “Valley of Conflicts” at bottom.


At the top is the “Valley of Harmony,” where the community guards their livestock well, protects snow leopards and other wildlife, and generates valuable household income. The Snow Leopard Conservancy uses large poster versions of the image in schools and communities in the cats’ habitat, to engage local people in conservation planning and action.


The image at the bottom depicts the “Valley of Conflicts,” where the community needs help in understanding the snow leopard’s role in the ecosystem, improving livestock husbandry, and benefiting from living in harmony with the environment.

POACHING

Poaching and illegal trading in the snow leopard’s exquisite fur and highly valued body parts (used in traditional Asian medicine) is a significant and increasing threat. Trade centers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mongolia all appear to be linked with the growing Chinese consumer market. In the 1990’s snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan declined three- or four-fold, with poachers taking up to 120 animals in a single year. The fur trade in Afghanistan re-emerged after the fall of the Taliban and the influx of international aid workers and soldiers – until conservationists launched an awareness campaign.

poaching
Kid Leopard Theater

COMPLACENT HERDING & FARMING

Complacent guarding, poorly constructed night-time pens, favorable stalking cover and insufficient wild prey all contribute to livestock loss.  Loss rates of snow leopards vary widely from less than 1% to 3%, but the annual economic impact of livestock depredation may range from $50 to nearly $300 per household.  This is significant given annual per capita cash incomes of $250-$400. Herders are especially angered by events of surplus killing when a snow leopard enters a corral and kills up to 50 or more sheep and goats in a single instance.  Herders naturally want to retaliate by killing the offending cat.  Those snow leopards living outside protected areas are all the more vulnerable.  In some areas livestock comprises up to 50% of a snow leopard’s diet, highlighting both the importance of domestic animals to the cats, and the important role that local communities may play in sustaining the species.

To offset this, alternative sources of income, such as tourism or sale of handicrafts, may greatly increase local people’s tolerance for co-existing with this predator.

Lamb killed by snow leopard in Ladakh, India.
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