The second International Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Forum concluded in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, last week (Aug 25) with a renewed commitment to intensify efforts for the protection of the endangered animal and their ecosystems.
The participating countries approved the ‘Bishkek Declaration 2017’ that reflects their determination to preserve snow leopard population and to ensure the cultural, social and economic well-being of mountain people. They also endorsed the activities of the steering committee of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Programme.
“We… the custodians of the world’s wild snow leopard population and the most valuable high-mountain ecosystems where they live…reiterate the fundamental principles, objectives and actions pertaining to participatory conservation of snow leopards and the high mountain ecosystems of Asia as stated in the Bishkek Declaration 2013,” the declaration read.
“We acknowledge the unique presence of the snow leopard, the associated biodiversity, and the human communities dwelling in the high mountains that depend on their ecosystems; and appreciate the commitment of range countries to green growth and sustainable development, and its promotion through the organization of the Green Investment Forum,” it stated.
“We recognize Asia’s mountain ecosystems as a powerful thread that binds and integrates our countries in terms of culture, spirituality and lifestyle, and that the snow leopard is an indicator of a healthy and resilient ecosystem.”
The participants declared “we understand that the conservation of the snow leopard must be achieved by securing the involvement, livelihoods, and balanced development of human communities who share the habitat, striving to reconcile economic growth with environmental sustainability.”
While expressing serious concerns at the ever-increasing risks for the snow leopard and its habitat, environmental problems caused by degradation of habitats, climate change, poaching, and illegal trafficking, they reaffirmed their commitment to the fundamental goals of an integrated, long-term global programme for the conservation of the snow leopard and its ecosystem.
“The protection of snow leopard populations and modernization of national wildlife laws should be among the main priorities of participating countries,” the declaration stresses.
They also supported the completion of management plans for landscapes by December 2018, their implementation to achieve “Secure at least 20 landscapes by 2020” goal, the role of GSLEP secretariat to strengthen collaboration with the range countries in leveraging funding opportunities from international financial institutions, donors and corporate sector for enhancing the implementation of the programme.
The participants recognized the need to develop specialized capacity building programmes aimed at snow leopard and its ecosystem conservation.
The participating countries agreed on certain concrete action plans with the aim to address the threats to snow leopard and its habitat, and to strengthen snow leopard conservation across its global distribution, range countries.
The actions include intensification of conservation and monitoring efforts in snow leopard landscapes and maintain their integrity and connectivity through natural corridors; convey serious concerns about the continuing gap in knowledge about snow leopard status and populations and take up scientifically sound initiatives for population assessment of the world’s snow leopards; undertake economic valuation of ecosystems, and scientifically estimated biodiversity offsets; consider the feasibility of mainstreaming smart green infrastructure in national public policy and call upon IFIs to create incentives for stimulating investments in green growth agenda.
The action plans also included creation of national and regional wildlife crime databases and strengthen regional and bilateral wildlife enforcement networks to effectively share such information and tackle poaching and illegal wildlife trade; setting up of regional funds, projects and national trust funds to finance snow leopard landscape management plans and other conservation actions based on ongoing best practices in the range countries by 2018.
Nepal takes the lead
Nepal has taken a major lead in its efforts to protect snow leopards by becoming the first of 12 countries to formulate a landscape-based conservation management plan.
On the first day of the two-day event, Nepal launched the Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Management Plan for Eastern Himalaya Landscape (EHL) to secure 20 landscapes for snow leopard. The 10-year climate-smart conservation management plan (2017-2026) is, perhaps the first of its kind in the world. The EHL is spread over 11,516 square kilometres and comprises of four major habitats, covering nearly 50 percent of Nepal’s snow leopard habitat.
Nepal also launched a book “Tracking The Ghost” on snow leopards at the forum.
Experts estimate there are 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards in the range countries with Nepal being home to at least 300 or more.
Representatives of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Nepal, Mongolia, India and Turkmenistan spoke on at the forum.
In Pakistan, habitat at risk
Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Climate Change, Senator Mushahidullah Khan, who attended the forum said snow leopards’ habitats in Pakistan’s north were at a serious risk of vanishing as glaciers are rapidly melting because of global warming-induced climate change impacts.
“Without slowing down global warming to stabilise glacial-melt in 20 snow leopard range countries including Pakistan, habitats of the snow leopard cannot be protected,” Khan said.
But, global efforts for tackling global warming have suffered a serious blow with America’s pullout from the historic global climate change accord, the minister emphasised.
He said that $4.5 million had been approved for snow leopard protection and the programme would be launched next year in Gilgit-Baltistan region.
According to the minister the Management Plan of the Karakoram-Pamir Landscape, which is one of the largest snow leopard landscapes in the world, is in its final stages and would be endorsed after review by the GSLEP Secretariat in a few week’s time.
As a part of efforts to mitigate human-snow leopard conflict, several measures have been undertaken in the country, such as the construction of predator-proof corrals and compensation programmes in the form of livestock insurance schemes initiated by the provincial governments in collaboration non-governmental organisations, Khan added.
Snow leopard range in Pakistan spreads across 80,000 square kilometres in the Hindukush, Pamir, Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges. An estimated 200 to 420 snow leopards exist in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
A symbol of mountain ecosystem, unity
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev, speaking at the Forum urged the participants to develop a comprehensive multi-country project for the protection of the snow leopard, its landscapes and ecosystems with the financial support of the Global Fund. Such project will unite the efforts of all 12 countries.
“Snow leopard is a sacred animal for the Kyrgyz people and a vivid symbol of mountain ecosystem,” the president said.
The holding of the first World Snow Leopard Protection Forum in Bishkek on October 23, 2013 on the protection of the snow leopard laid the foundation for effective interaction between countries of the snow leopard habitat, international organizations and financial institutions for understanding the problem and principles for the development of high-mountain landscapes and protection of the snow leopard.
Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) programme aims to address the high-mountain environmental problems by preserving the population of charismatic and endangered snow leopards as the main representative of these ecosystems.
“The leaders of 12 states, where snow leopards live, have to do a great job and it is worth noting that it is not so easy to come to a common opinion,” Oliver Avramoski, an environmental coordinator for the preservation of nature projects, said. But, the fact that they are already sounding the alarm about preserving the population of rare animals is a big step towards solving this problem, he added.
The magnificent snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is an integral part of the cultural history of Asia’s mountain people. An indicator of strength, stealth and liberty, the snow leopard is revered in all regions where it is found. Snow leopards’ habitat is the high mountains of Asia, which are considered to be the water towers of the world. Supplying water to up to 60% of the world’s human population, and providing numerous other ecosystem services that have high economic and cultural value, these mountains have regional and global relevance for the welfare of humankind.
The snow leopard is found in 12 countries that include Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Around 3,000 to 7,000 snow leopards survive in the nearly two million square km within these 12 countries and is provided with the highest level of protection by the local law as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) threatened with extinction.
Hunting of snow leopards is strictly prohibited and it is listed in the International Red Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Several conventional threats such as illegal poaching, habitat destruction and climate change are posing greater threats on snow leopard and its ecosystem than ever before, urging for the need to take immediate action.