As children, a lot of us had a lion and tiger as our favorite animals. In later stages of life, we learned about panther, jaguar, leopard, and cheetah. As confusing as it is to learn about these closely related species, I will try to make it simple for you to learn about the one who lives in snow.
Snow Leopard, The Ounce
The Snow leopard, whose scientific name is Panthera Uncia, lives in the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is also called the ounce, which comes from the Latin word Luncea which means lynx. The L eventually fell off and the name became ounce.
The snow leopard belongs to the vulnerable species list in the IUCN red list since their population is dwindling. The population currently is less than 10,000 mature individuals, which is expected to decrease by 10% by the end of 2040. Snow leopards live in the alpine and subalpine regions which have elevation from 3000m to 4500m (9,800 to 14,800 ft). These regions are part of eastern Afghanistan, The Himalayas and Tibetian Plateau, Mongolia, southern Siberia, and western China.
World Snow Leopard Day, October 23rd
Snow leopards are considered immensely important when it comes to the health and sustainability of mountain ecosystems, and the importance of mountain ecosystems is as high as it can get. These regions quench the thirst of the 60% of the world's population. For the natives of these areas, the snow leopard holds a sacred value which often represents their spiritual, cultural, and natural ideals and wealth.
23rd October is celebrated as a day to remind the international communities, the civil societies, the private companies, and individuals across the globe of the significance of snow leopard, as well as remind them of the responsibility they have towards the species and its ecosystem.
Why October 23rd?
On October 23rd, 2013, political leaders from 12 countries decided to come together and endorse the 'Bishkek Declaration' for the conservation of snow leopard. It was an unprecedented moment. The president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaeyev, hosted the event which was attended by leaders from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Russia, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China.
The event was held in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, to promote conservation methods for protecting the snow leopards and their natural habitats. A comprehensive Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) was also launched on the same day during which topics such as high-mountain development issues and conservation were discussed. Hence, 23rd October was chosen as International Snow Leopard Day in the memory of the Bishkek Declaration.
A wide range of country-governments and international and national organizations such as Snow Leopard Trust, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), and Global Tiger Initiative are working together to achieve the aim of GSLEP. There exist at least 100 breeding zones where the ecosystem is optimum and sufficient prey is available. It is made sure that the ecosystem remains intact as well as the biodiversity in such sensitive areas. It is made sure that development planning is done in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. Community-based efforts and involvements are also included to enhance the livelihoods and strengthening the laws. The local communities also participate in discussing the traditional and emerging threat as well as the implementation of sustainable solutions. Research, resource mobilization, technology, information exchange, and cooperation are a few things that are utilized to maintain the stability of the region.
Several landscapes are identified and secured under the GSLEP program. An area of 4,600km to 92,000 km accounts for almost 25% of the global snow leopard range. The authorities recognized that there was a need to incorporate mapping between human habitat, wildlife habitat, interlinking corridors, as well as infrastructure and industries. These techniques were used to identify and secure more and more areas. Engaging with the local community is one of the main factors of the GSLEP program which also promotes their participation in the conservation practices.
12 individual National Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Priorities (NSLEPs) are considered the foundation of the GSLEP program. These national priorities also inculcate five global components such as illegal wildlife trade, transboundary cooperation, knowledge sharing, and institutional capacity building, research and monitoring, and large scale infrastructure development. The movement has been slowly gaining momentum by the efforts of locals as well as International University is who formed several networks across Central Asia to address all these issues.
Threat to Our Snow Leopards
Snow leopards have been facing threats for several years now. Major causes are poaching illegal trade and increasing conflict within the communities. Not to forget the impending climate change. Discussed below are these factors and their implications.
Poaching: Snow leopards are targeted mainly due to their beautiful fur. Their bones and other body parts are also been used in much traditional Asian medicine. The illegal trade of Snow leopards has only seen an increase in the past few decades.
Conflict within communities: There has been a steady decline in the leopard's natural prey due to hunting and other competitions. Many herders kill snow leopard in retaliation as the snow leopards many times attacked their livestock for food.
Habitat loss: Habitat loss seems to be a prime concern for all the endangered and vulnerable animals, and the snow leopard is no special in this case. Humans have been expanding their population as well as settlements, hence encroaching their habitats. Several infrastructure development projects for new roads and mines have also fragmented many of these sensitive zones.
Climate change: All the above factors are going to get worse when climate change is at its peak. The rising temperatures are already melting most of the Glaciers and snow, hence destroying the habitat for Snow leopards. This also endangered the livelihood of the natives.
Organization and Initiatives
We have already learned about GSLEP. Adding a few more organizations to this list, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working for several years to protect the snow leopard by supporting a wide range of projects across Central Asia. They have helped in building leopard-proof livestock pens, which reduces human-animal conflict. WWF also launched their first specie action plan for snow leopard back in 2015. The state government of Uttarakhand is developing India's first snow leopard conservation center. The center is being developed by the Uttarakhand forest department it along with the United Nations Development Program. Snow leopards are also included in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. The other countries which are part of GSLEP are also implementing such plants to protect the snow leopards.
What can WE do?
A very small population of the world is in direct contact with the snow leopards. Hence our contribution to protecting the snow leopard can be done by mitigating climate change. Climate change is going to worsen all ecological and environmental problems that we are facing right now, hence solving climate change solves the majority of the problems. Check out these links to learn how you can reduce your carbon footprint and prevent climate change, and IUCN Red List.
Reduction of Carbon Footprint- https://www.projecthelpngo.org/post/reduce-your-carbon-footprint. IUCN Red List- https://www.projecthelpngo.org/post/iucn-red-list
If you want to adopt a snow leopard, click on the link below. WWF offers people to adopt the species of their choice. https://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions/Snow-Leopard.aspx
Author: Subhasri Banerjee
Data and Statistics: Wikipedia
Subscribe below to receive weekly newsletters.