Date: 03 December 2013
Author: Li Yan, Web Editor, ecns.com
A wild snow leopard was recently photographed pursuing a herd of Ibexes at 5,100 meters, the highest altitude of any snow leopard photographed in China. Snow Leopard Network member Ma Ming was quoted in the article. He estimates the individual photographed to be 2-3 years old.
The State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry of Kyrgyzstan has announced that the International Snow Leopard Conservation Forum will be held in the upcoming months (in September according to one source, and October according to another).
If any Snow Leopard Network member who is planning to attend could send through more information, that would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks to the Environmental Graduates in Himalaya for alerting us to this piece of news in Issue 259 of the Headlines Himalaya newsletter.
A three-year study carried out by SLN member Som Ale in Annapurna Conservation Area has confirmed the presence of five endangered snow leopards at Bhashu, Namu, Lupra and Muktinath Temple areas, and in the vicinity of Tilicho lake and Thorang La pass. The study team also estimated that there are around 300 snow leopards in Nepal and stressed the need for launching conservation campaigns.
BAGLUNG, July 1: As many as five endangered snow leopards have been spotted in the mountain district of Mustang. A three-year study carried out in the district by wildlife experts has confirmed the presence of the rare animal.
Locals believed that there were snow leopards in the mountains and this has now been confirmed, said wildlife experts involved in the study.
Annuparna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) in collaboration with several organizations including Snowland Conservation, conducted the study under the leadership of snow leopard expert Som Ale from 2011.
The study team had fixed nine trapping cameras in the mountains to track the rare wildlife species.
In the course of the study in the past three years, five snow leopards were spotted in an area of 1,000 square kilometers in the district, said Ale. The animals were witnessed at Bhashu, Namu, Lupra and Muktinath Temple areas and in the vicinity of Tilicho lake and Thorang La pass. The areas where snow leopards were spotted are in the altitude between 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters.
“Of the total nine cameras that were installed, one was stolen while one broke down during our survey. Despite the problem, we were able to track five snow leopards,” he said. With the end of the study, the wildlife experts stressed the need for launching conservation campaigns in the highlands of the district for protecting the rare animals. “Their numbers can be increased if the locals take initiatives to conserve teh animals and their habitat,” Ale said.
He said that the animals could draw foreign tourists in large numbers and the country could earn a lot if the government worked toward conserving the animals and increasing their numbers. Also, the inflow of tourists to the district could uplift the economic condition of the locals.
Meanwhile, ACAP officials said they are working to mobilize students to raise awareness among the locals on conservation of the animal.
The study team also estimated that there are around 300 snow leopards in Nepal.
Panthera has allied with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to conserve Snow Leopards in the mountainous areas where the monasteries are found. The following article provides a thorough interview with Tom McCarthy and Li Juan. Full text is as follows:
Tibetan monks could be the key to safeguarding the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) from extinction, according to an innovative program by big cat NGO Panthera which is partnering with Buddhist monasteries deep in leopard territory. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, snow leopard populations have dropped by a fifth in the last 16 years or so. Large, beautiful, and almost never-seen, snow leopards are the apex predators of the high plateaus and mountains of central Asia, but their survival like so many big predators is in jeopardy.
Tom McCarthy the head of the Snow Leopard Program at Panthera told mongabay.com that the high-altitude predators are facing three major threats: poaching for illegal snow leopard skins, fur, and parts; decline in natural prey; and revenge killing by locals over livestock losses.
“Snow leopards share their mountain habitat with poor herding families whose lives are highly dependent on livestock,” McCarthy says. “When a snow leopard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge economic loss to the herder. It is hard to blame them for wanting to kill the snow leopard in retaliation.”
To mitigate this conflict, Panthera has turned to Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries as allies. Inhabiting the same sky-high regions as snow leopards in China, Buddhist monks, who maintain a special status in the society, have become effective partners, working with local communities to mitigate conflict and killings while monitoring the cats’ status. Moreover, this program could be expanded across snow leopard habtiat.
“As a strategy, monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions, covering about 80 percent of global snow leopard range,” explains Li Juan, who is the world’s first female scientist with a PhD in zoology focusing on snow leopards and is currently a post-doctoral student at Peking University. She has played a key role in the work on the Tibetan Plateau, which is a collaboration between the Chinese conservation NGO Shan Shui, Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TOM MCCARTHY AND LI JUAN Tom McCarthy far left with monks in China. Photo by: Panthera (T. McCarthy). Mongabay:What’s your background? Tom McCarthy: I am a wildlife biologist and started my career in Alaska. I did my MSc on brown bear ecology and then worked with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for several years as a research and management biologist. Mongabay:What drew you to snow leopards initially?
Rare image of female snow leopard with cubs. Photo by: Panthera/Shan Shui (E. Zhu).
Tom McCarthy: It was almost an accident. I had always wanted to work overseas, so when a friend from Alaska was going to Mongolia to film the work of George Schaller I sent a letter along asking if there was anything there I could get involved with. I was thinking one of George’s Asian bear studies. Many months later when the answer came back he said there was a snow leopard project in the Gobi that he needed someone to lead. I had never before even thought of doing snow leopard work, but that project became the basis for my PhD and started me on a 20-year career in this field. Mongabay:What are the major threats facing this species? Tom McCarthy: There are several primary threats and they include:
Retribution killing for depredation on livestock. Snow leopards share their mountain habitat with poor herding families whose lives are highly dependent on livestock. When a snow leopard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge economic loss to the herder. It is hard to blame them for wanting to kill the snow leopard in retaliation.
Loss of natural prey. Snow leopards subsist primarily on large wild mountain ungulates, like ibex, blue sheep, argali, and markhor. Many of those are in decline from poaching for food and sale of parts. In some cases poorly managed trophy hunting is also driving populations down, leaving the snow leopard with little choice but to shift attention to livestock, with the resultant conflict with herders.
Poaching for hides and bones. Snow leopard hides, and more so their bones, are extremely valuable on the black market. A single set of snow leopard bones on the Traditional Asian Medical market can bring upwards of $10,000. Hides remain popular for fur garments, primarily in eastern Europe. Despite the fact they are protected legally in each of their 12 range countries, they are persecuted and hunted in many areas and populations may be in steep declines in some of those. Mongabay:You’ve partnered with Buddhist monasteries to help save these cryptic cats. Will you tell us how this partnership works?
Li Juan climbing to snow leopard camera trap site. Photo by: Shan Shui (Li Juan).
Li Juan: We have since 2009 initiated cooperative programs with four monasteries for snow leopard conservation in the Sanjiangyuan region. We provided funds for patrollers and for buying binoculars, cameras and GPSs, as well as training monks to observe, monitor, and record wildlife systematically. The Rinpoche, Khenpos, and other high-ranking monks were requested to emphasize the special value of snow leopards and other wildlife in their religious convocations. At the same time we distributed snow leopard posters to encourage conservation of this iconic cat. These programs have seen their initial effectiveness. Mongabay:How do the monks feel about the snow leopards? Li Juan: Actually, they do not have special feeling about snow leopards. In their view, they treat all beings as equal. Mongabay:How do the monasteries advocate with local communities for the leopards? Li Juan: The Rinpoche, Khenpos, and other high-ranking monks would emphasize the special value of snow leopards and other wildlife in their religious convocations. They also encourage the locals to swear an oath not to kill wildlife every year.
When some herders complained about their severe loss of livestock to snow leopards, some Khenpos even pay their own money to compensate them. When they encountered Tibetans hunting wildlife, they might ask them to kneel and do penance, order them to leave, or report illegal activities to the local governments. Mongabay:What scientific duties do the Buddhist monks perform? Li Juan: The monks do the scientific monitoring routinely, including counting blue sheep, recording the wildlife they encountered, recording the plant phenology etc. Some monks work as our field assistants, help us with collecting feces and changing the batteries and cards of camera traps. They are very excited about the camera trapping and enjoy receiving and sharing the photos with their community. Mongabay:What is the research uncovering? Any surprises? Li Juan: We are surprised to find that more snow leopard habitats in the Sanjiangyuan area could be directly protected by monasteries than the core areas of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. Tibetan monasteries have similar habitat selection with snow leopards, both on the large and small scales. As a strategy, monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions, covering about 80 percent of global snow leopard range.
Monks reading snow leopard field guide. Photo by: Panthera (T. McCarthy).
A seminar was held last month by the Mongolian Ministry for Nature, Environment and Green Development. If any SLN member who attended would like to give a report in the next News Update, that would be very informative. Full text of news story follows:
The Mongolian Ministry for Nature, Environment and Green Development held a seminar Thursday to discuss ways to further strengthen snow leopard conservation.
More than 30 experts, scholars and officials from Mongolia’s environmental protection departments, the World Environment Foundation, the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation and other institutes discussed conservation measures and shared experience from other countries.
Experts said that, due to habitat loss, poaching, conflicts with humans and other reasons in recent years, the snow leopard had been listed as endangered species.
Snow leopards are targeted by hunters for its beautiful fur. Mongolia’s southern Gobi region is implementing a project to protect the species. Snow Leopard is mainly distributed in China’s Xinjiang region, Mongolia and other countries in the Central Asia plateau.
Snow leopards become video stars in student’s plan to save them
Humans are the biggest threat to the endangered snow leopard but a former park ranger from Bhutan hopes to mitigate that threat, thanks to Australian help.
The soft-furred, snowy cats do not live in Australia, except in places like the National Zoo in Canberra, which is home to two of them, named Bhutan and Shiva.
They are found in the wild in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Researchers and conservationists believe there are between 3000 and 6000 left in the wild.
But former park ranger Tenzin Phuntsho, who volunteers at the zoo while studying filmmaking in Canberra on an Australian government scholarship, said he is working on a plan to help conserve the small cats, who have big feet for walking on snow.
”It is so beautiful,” Mr Phuntsho said of the animal.
He hopes to use his training to educate people in Bhutan about the need to preserve the elusive cat.
There is a 95 per cent illiteracy rate among the nomadic population so he believes video will get the message across.
Until recently the cats had been thriving in Bhutan, where the cultural philosophy is that all life forms are connected.
Leopards eating domestic stock had been considered a part of life, and even if one killed a yak, there would be no retaliation, Mr Phuntsho said.
But more people are moving into the alpine areas of the Himalayas and since yaks are a trapping of wealth there are a lot more about for leopards to eat.
Yaks are less agile than other local wildlife and easier prey for the leopard.
”I am a bit afraid now because … people are changing and snow leopards are becoming more of a threat,” Mr Phuntsho said.
People are becoming more aggressive: ”I fear they might retaliate one day.”
The National Zoo also has a volunteer team that helps wildlife charities around the world, including the global Snow Leopard Trust.
The trust’s website says that over the past 16 years snow leopard numbers have declined by about 20 per cent due to habitat and prey base loss, as well as poaching and persecution. Losses to poaching were most severe in the former Russian republics during the 1990s and have declined.
But an illegal trade continues as demand for body parts from China is growing.
Thanks to SLN member Jaffar Ud Din for alerting us to the attached article, a heartwarming account of a snow leopard cub being saved by Pakistan’s Snow Leopard Foundation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
A study titled “Conservation and Climate Change: Assessing the Vulnerability of Snow Leopard Habitat to Tree Line Shift in the Himalaya” has indicated that of the estimated 270,000 km2 of Snow Leopard habitat in the Himalayan region, about 30% may be lost due to tree line shrinking and shifting of the alpine zone. The study highlights that in the case of IPCC greenhouse gas high emissions scenario, Bhutan and Nepal may lose snow leopard habitat by about 55% and 40% respectively whereas the loss has been estimated to be 25% in India and China.
Biological Conservation, Volume 150, Issue 1, Pages 129-135
CHITRAL, Jan 26: Snow leopard was spotted in the forests near Bakamak and Shali villages in Chitral district on Wednesday and Thursday after long disappearance.
An official of the local wildlife department told Dawn on Thursday that the big cat appeared near Bakamak and Shali areas but heavy snowfall forced it into moving to Toshi game reserve at lower altitude.
He said snow leopard hadn’t been seen in the area over the last two years amidst fears about its extinction.
People thronged the Garam Chashma Road to catch a glimpse of the leopard.
The wildlife department official said the big cat descended to the areas of low altitudes in search of food after heavy snow in forests and high mountains and that small animals, including markhor and ibex, were its cherished food.
People fear attacks on them and their livestock by the big cat, especially at nighttime.
Ejaz Ahmad, a biodiversity specialist, said snow leopard lived in areas alongside Hindu Kush range of mountains.
He said leopard was declared an endangered specie in the recent past but its population density later surged satisfactorily.
Mr Ejaz said massive grazing in alpine rangeland, human conflicts, climatic change and decline in snowfall had led to reduction in the number of leopards. He said WWF had launched a snow leopard welfare project in some Chitral villages.
Meanwhile, Dinar Shah, in his eighties and from Seen village, said previously, people used to guard their families and livestock at nighttime but installation of bulbs around the village had curtailed leopard attacks.
He said leopard’s attacks on people were very rare as it targeted livestock, especially goats, only. He said the former Chitral rulers banned leopard killing but lifted the ban in view of growing cases of its attacks on livestock.
Some regretted that leopard was poached in the area for skin, which had a great demand in national and international market, without let or hindrance. They demanded registration of cases against leopards.