Mountain communities urged to change behaviour towards snow leopards

File photo[/caption] In a statement issued here on Saturday, WWF said with the dwindling numbers of the big cat, also called the phantom of the Himalayas, there was a need to respect and conserve the natural habitat of the species which was under threat from a variety of factors, including climate change, prey depletion and a greater conflict with human encroachment. A study conducted by WWF-Pakistan, under the Asia High Mountain Project, shows that warmer temperatures were shrinking the snow leopard habitat, pushing it towards extinction every day. Though the snow leopard was reported to likely be resilient to climate change and its impacts, the remaining small and fragmented population of the species, which was estimated to be between 200-400 in Pakistan, was making it vulnerable to changing climatic patterns in different areas. The study added that the snowline during the last 25 years had shifted upward by about one kilometre. This shift meant warmer temperatures were melting glaciers and increasing droughts, posing serious threats to the snow leopard population. This upward trend invited herders to stay for an additional 20 to 25 days a year compared to the past 15 days by moving their livestock to new grazing areas. According to the report, there was now a greater chance of herders and livestock encountering a snow leopard. Furthermore, the human-wildlife conflict was already a serious threat to the snow leopard population in Pakistan. Retaliatory killings by livestock herders, though minimised through WWF-Pakistan’s interventions, remained as a bone of contention between the coexistence of humans and the big cat. “Whereas retaliatory killings of the snow leopard by local communities are an uncommon sight, poaching of the species specifically for the illegal trade in their pelts and products remain the major area of concern for their depleting numbers,” said Dr Babar Khan, senior conservation manager/head WWF-Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan). Dr Khan’s concerns are supported by a recent report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimating that between 221 and 450 snow leopards had been poached annually across the 12 range countries of the species since 2008 – a minimum of four per week. But this number could be substantially higher since many killings in remote areas went undetected. According to the report, over 90pc of the reported snow leopard poaching occurred in five out of the total 12 range countries such as China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. Nepal was also flagged for having relatively high poaching levels considering its relatively small population of snow leopards. China and Russia were most frequently identified as destinations for animals poached in other countries. Afghanistan had also been a major illegal market for snow leopard furs over the past decade. However, the report found that over half the retaliatory and non-targeted poaching incidents resulted in opportunistic attempts to sell, contributing to the estimated 108-219 snow leopards that were illegally traded each year. –Dawn]]>

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