Snow leopard killing livestock in Gilgit, Pakistan

Wildlife: Snow leopard on the prowl in Gilgit
By Shabbir Mir
Published: April 5, 2011
The endangered animal has been on a killing spree of cattle for weeks.

A snow leopard – also known as the Uncia or Panthera uncial – went on a killing spree in a remote Valley of Gilgit late on Sunday, slaughtering a dozen goats owned by a poor shepherd.

The incident occurred in a pre-dawn attack at Nazim Abad – a village of Sost Gojal, which is about 300 kilometres from Gilgit and is adjacent to the Pak-China border at Sost.

Chairman Khunjerab Village Organisation (KVO) Rehman Posh, who is also a conservationist, told The Express Tribune that, “The wild cat has killed 11 live stock including goat and sheep.” He added that the snow leopard had managed to break into a cattle shed, belonging to Ashim Shah, a shepherd.

“I examined the spot after a villager informed me of the incident and found that seven cattle were dead while four were seriously injured,” he said, adding that the wounded animals were put down as they had little to no chances of survival.

Posh said that the snow leopard has been on the rampage for the past couple of week in the valley, as it had previously killed two domesticated animals (yaks) in the Morphun area. He said that in the wake of the attacks, locals have stepped up security of their livestock as the assaults usually come as surprise.

Posh added that the incident was immediately brought to the notice of the forests and wildlife department. Asked if they will provide any compensation to the owner of the cattle, the chairman said that they were in the process of dialogue with the aggrieved party and said that his organisation would provide compensation to the farmer. He, however, didn’t say how much.

Divisional forests officer [DFO] Wildlife Ghulam Mohammad told The Express Tribune that he has assigned the task of verification and compilation of the report of the incident to his subordinates. He said that such incidents in the Gilgit-Baltistan are frequent and that a systematic approach is needed to settle the issue.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2011.

From Yellowstone to the Karakorums: A journey to understand conflicts with large carnivores

Written by SLN member Tanya Rosen, NRCC Research Associate.

Reprinted from: NRCC News (Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative) annual newsletter: bridging science and policy to advance conservation. Fall 2010, issue 23(1). 12-13.

It is a warm July evening and the bus of the Northern Areas Transportation Company has just pulled into Skardu, after a 29-hour exhilarating drive along the Karakorum Highway from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Mesmerized by the unearthly beauty of the Karakorum mountains, I step off the bus with Rich Harris of the University of Montana. We are greeted with a warm smile by Ghulam Mohammad, the manager of Project Snow Leopard of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO).

In 1999, Shafqat Hussain, a conservationist and anthropologist, founded Project Snow Leopard (PSL), focused on creating incentives for snow leopard conservation in villages in Gilgit- Baltistan. Ghulam soon joined the organization. Whereas in the past farmers would normally retaliate against livestock losses by killing snow leopards, Shafqat proposed that farmers set aside a
collective pool of money equal to the value of the average annual loss rate. In his words, “The loss of livestock would then be a mild setback for the entire community rather than a devastating
loss for a farmer alone.” That idea led to the development of an insurance-like scheme with two components: a collective insurance fund managed by the community’s Snow Leopard Conservation Committee (SLCC) and a second fund managed by BWCDOPSL that is ideally funded by income from an eco-tourism venture focused on snow-leopard viewing called Full Moon Night Trekking. !e premiums are relatively low and the compensation that is disbursed when the animal is lost to snow leopards is subsidized with money from the second fund.

Snow leopards are beautiful cats that use their thick fluffy tail for balancing. They are agile hunters of the ungulates that inhabit the Karakorums: ibex and markhor. But a decrease in wild prey due to hunting and poaching has varied their diet. A diet that now includes domestic livestock. They are very hard to spot in the wild where they blend in well with their surrounding landscape; but when they come in villages or summer pastures to attack livestock, they are easier to catch, especially in instances of surplus killing when they kill more than they need for food and surprisingly don’t always flee the killing scene.

Eleven years later, the Project has expanded into 9 villages. I am excited to be here, to help in the expansion of the project and to learn as well. Since I am working on similar conflicts for Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Yellowstone, I have a feeling that the work that Shafqat and Ghulam do here can help back home.

After a night in Skardu, we leave with Ghulam for Hushey in Ganche District, where we will join Shafqat and engage in community dialogues to assess their satisfaction with Project Snow Leopard’s insurance scheme. We drive for six hours, stopping to take in more of the landscape and basking in the dramatic contrasts of light and height.

Hushey is a small village in the shadow of Masherbrum. Many trekkers and climbers come through on their way to climbing the largest concentration of 8000 metre-and-up peaks in the world. Boys and girls are running around and happy to practice their English learned from Oxford University Press books in the private school subsidized entirely by the village and their families.

We sit on a small veranda sipping chai tea and eating chapatti bread. People come to greet us and we begin to talk. In my extremely modest Urdu vocabulary I rely on my hands and eyes to
express how happy I am to be with them, how inspiring to know what they are doing for the snow leopard. I look up…and wonder if hidden and camouflaged in the rocks there is one just staring at
me now.

That night, sitting outside my tent, I look at the contours of the mountains in the dark: it’s Lailat ul Bara’h, a holiday when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one’s destiny is fixed for the year ahead. I sense Hushey is a place I will be coming back to for years to come.

The following morning, we meet with the members of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee. Shafqat starts the meeting by introducing Rich and me. He explains that we are here to understand the work that has been done, help make it sustainable, and identify research opportunities that can produce data to show that the hard work and commitment of Hushey is paying off: namely that conflict has decreased and snow leopard and ibex populations have increased. I also add that I am here to learn for my work back in Yellowstone, where the social tolerance for carnivores is dropping dramatically. Given how precarious livelihoods are in this region, I am still amazed that people here would want to do conservation.

With my experience in Yellowstone, I have been thinking more and more that conservation is for wealthy people. It is easy to love and care for wildlife that does not threaten your life and your
economic activities. So I was surprised to hear one of the elders say that “the decision to take proactive measures to protect the snow leopard” was a decision “taken by the community and not a tall order coming from a conservation organization.” As the leader of the village Snow Leopard Conservation Committee tells me, with Shafqat and Ghulam translating, Hushey “wants to protect the snow leopard because it is proud to have an animal that so many people care about.”

Clearly not everyone feels that way…and if that was not the case I would probably not believe it. However, the combination of peer pressure, coupled with the calls of the mullah of the local mosque that deeds against the snow leopard would not go unpunished, tell me that Hushey has a true conservation success story to tell. I listen carefully. As people get more comfortable, with the conversation turning from a question-and-answer session to a free flowing dialogue, everyone chimes in with tales, views and feelings about experiencing livestock losses. Even with the insurance scheme in place, these people still take an incredible economic loss, as the compensation paid does not fully compensate the cost of the animal lost. The village has a very small economy with agriculture and livestock activities carried out only to meet local needs.
!ere is a relatively successful trophy hunting program that brings some cash and, since Hushey is en route to K2 and other peaks, there are some income opportunities for guides, porters and cooks, but the economic opportunities remain small. It was incredible that such a powerful conservation lesson came from such a place.

I turn to Shafqat, who started the whole program, but maintains an impressive modesty. He does not talk about himself or the awards he’s received for the project. In Hushey, he blends in. But when he talks, his narrative is magical and persuasive. He cares about the people and the snow leopard, not the renown he might get from it. Ghulam is the same; the species and the people are the most important thing about the project for both of them.

!e next stop is Baisha, a neighboring valley where the economic opportunities are even more limited. Thanks to the expert hands of driver Mansour, we safely negotiate narrow roads, some washed out by roaring streams or blocked by massive boulders that luckily decided to tumble down before or after we passed. Many villages in Baisha are accessible only on foot or via cable over the river. Because of their location and access difficulties, places like Sibiri, Zill, and Doko are more cut-off from income generating opportunities, like portering or trophy hunting. Development aid has not arrived there yet either, at least not as visibly as in Hushey. In one of the villages, the teacher of the local government school shows up only one day out of every four.
!e private school is expensive for the farmers, and families choose to educate their sons first, which leaves 67 girls out of school.

Talking about snow leopard conservation in the context of such problems with the education system and a lack of primary healthcare is really hard. We learn that the need to protect their
limited economic resources has driven people in this valley to poison snow leopards. The demand for snow leopard fur has exacerbated this practice. But, once again, surprisingly the people from Sibiri choose to protect the snow leopard.

Back in Skardu, hell has broken loose. The Karakorum Highway is closed. The angry and dark Indus River we saw on the way up to Skardu, full and seemingly in a hurry to reach the plains, was not the norm. Bridges have collapsed — once again either before or after we arrived, but we are stuck. We scout the sky and hope for the clouds to open up enough for a plane to land to take us back to Islamabad. I am not ready to leave though. I have learned so much from the way people live here, and I hope to come back soon, perhaps this spring. !e warmth of the people I talked to cut through barriers of culture, gender, and religion and went straight to the core. You talk about wildlife and the hardships of life and you see that where you come from does not matter: nature, in this case in the shape of a wild cat and the challenges it poses, unites us.

Livestock insurance program increases snow leopard population in Nepal

The population of snow leopard inside Kanchenjunga Conservation Area has been secured with the introduction of livestock insurance scheme. Livestock owners had contributed NPR 55 for each number of animals they owned and a villager is entitled to receive NPR 2,500 if a snow leopard killed a cattle. Earlier, villagers used to set up snares to capture and kill snow leopards as retribution.

9 November 2011‐kathmandu‐post/2010/11/09/nation/snow‐leopard‐population‐up/214631/

Shafqat Hussain honored for work with snow leopards

Eli honored for work with snow leopards

Ilana Seager

Staff Reporter

Published Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Love is blind, and Shafqat Hussain GRD ‘08 learned this the hard way. Despite having devoted his professional life to his passion for saving snow leopards, the closest he has come to one is the zoo gift store.

Yesterday, Hussain, a doctoral student in anthropology and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, was officially named one of 10 National Geographic Emerging Explorers for 2009 for his work with snow leopards in northern Pakistan. The $10,000 research grant, which recognizes adventurers for their contributions to world knowledge, will allow Hussain to continue to work with local communities to ensure the survival of this endangered species.

Hussain first appeared on the international radar when he pioneered Project Snow Leopard in 1998, a self-funding livestock insurance scheme that offers Pakistani villagers compensation for any livestock they lose to snow leopards. But some environmentalists remain unconvinced that insurance is the only way to save the majestic cat.

“Our program is still expanding,” Hussain said in an interview with the News. “We don’t have any grand visions or plans. We just somehow want to see that large conservation projects that are funded by international agencies can see that the approach of separating human society from the environment is not the answer.”

Hussain dreamt up Project Snow Leopard after witnessing the threat snow leopard populations pose to local villages in the Skoyo and Basha valleys of north Pakistan. The cats hunt the villagers’ livestock — their only source of income. The villagers, in return, hunt the cats to protect their livelihood, creating a vicious circle of predation.

The idea has taken off since it was put into effect in Pakistan and serves as a model for similar projects in India, China and Nepal, Hussain said.

“Shafqat Hussain’s Project Snow Leopard is an example of innovative thinking and the ability to balance the needs of individuals, communities and the environment,” said Cheryl Zook, National Geographic’s manager of Emerging Explorers and Special Projects. “It is an example of forward-thinking, holistic conservation work.”

But Hussain is not your average conservationist. With an undergraduate degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in economics, a master’s in biology — and soon enough, a Ph.D. in anthropology — the son of a Pakistani civil servant has sampled a wide range of disciplines. His heart, though, has remained with the imposing mountain landscape he recalls admiring in his childhood.

“When I was young I used to go to the hills,” Hussain said. “I found out there were these amazing mountains in the north, and I knew that I wanted to go back and work there.”

His own fascination with nature convinced him that the solution to problems of conservation was not to artificially separate humans from their natural surroundings.

This view has shaped his outlook on national parks, which he sees as sources of historical conflict and as an ineffective means of preserving nature.

“The whole idea of the national park is enshrined in this philosophy that there is wilderness and pristine nature and that it’s timeless,” he said. “But historical records show that there is no part of the world that hasn’t been touched by humans.”

But Todd Remaley, chief ranger with the Appalachian Trail, argues that Hussain’s idea — that nature and humans should coexist naturally — is not in opposition to the thinking behind a national park.

While he acknowledged that there is no one right way to tackle all problems of conservation, Remaley remained doubtful that programs like Project Snow Leopard could be entirely effective without the environmental preservation that the national park framework provides.

“On the surface it sounds like he’s found a solution, but what is he doing to preserve the habitat?” Remaley said. “One of the biggest problems facing endangered species today is the destruction of their habitats.”

But Hussain argues that such thinking — conceiving of an animal’s habitat as wilderness — represents a “typically first world view of nature conservation.”

“A habitat is separate from human society,” he said. “Humans have been part of the same habitat for millions of years, so clearly it is not their presence, but their behavior and

practices that are [at fault]. And that is what we are trying to address.”

Only two sightings of snow leopards have taken place in the past fifty years.