Photo: A snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan’s Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary. Credit: SLF Kyrgyzstan / Snow Leopard Trust - Photo: 2017

Globally Endangered Snow Leopard Draws the Focus

By Sultan Karimov

BISHKEK (IDN) – An elusive denizen of the mountains of Central and South Asia, the snow leopard (panthera uncia) inhabits parts of 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Its geographic range, 60 percent of which is in China, runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the mountains of Pamir, Tian Shan, Karakorum, Kashmir, Kunlun, and the Himalaya to southern Siberia, where the range covers the Russian Altai, Sayan, Tannu-Ola mountains and the mountains to the west of Lake Baikal.

It is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet it is found up to the Altyn-Tagh in the north.  This beautiful and charismatic great cat is largely solitary and lives at low to very low densities in mountainous rangelands at elevations from 540 to more than 5,000 meters above sea level.

The snow leopard is listed as globally Endangered on the IUCN Red List and the species is listed (as Uncia uncia) on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora), which prohibits international trade in the animal and its parts and products except under exceptional, non-commercial circumstances. All snow leopard range countries except Tajikistan are parties to CITES but the process for Tajikistan to join is underway.

The Convention on Migratory Species deems the snow leopard a “concerted action species,” thus obliging the six range countries (India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) party to this convention to conserve and restore its habitat. The snow leopard is also protected by national laws in all of the 12 countries in which it is found.

It is against this backdrop that the International Snow Leopard and its Ecosystem Forum on August 24-25 brought together in Bishkek – the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic – heads and representatives of the Governments of the 12 snow leopard range countries as well as of other interested nations with leaders from international institutions, donor agencies, conservation organizations and scientific institutions.

This high-level event sought to further strengthen the range countries’ ongoing effort to protect the snow leopard and to galvanize international support for their ambitious plan of securing 20 snow leopard landscapes by the year 2020.

The Forum adopted the Bishkek Declaration 2017, reaffirming the 12 countries’ commitment to saving the endangered snow leopard. The key points are the strengthening of the declaration adopted in Bishkek in 2013 and the involvement of business communities that care about environmental issues.

The leaders from the business and entertainment sector who participated in the Forum included: Dia Mirza, actress and film producer, India; Jubin Nautyial, singer and musician, India: Hari Sankaran, M.D. IL&FS; Wang Shi, Vanke Foundation, Binod Chaudhary, Chaudhary Group of Industries; and Punit Lalbhai, Arvind Mills.

Strategic partners included the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), Global Environment Facility (GEF), Global Tiger Initiative Council (GTIC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Several organizations such as FAO, WFP and OSCE also provided support for specific deliverables.

In a video message to the Forum, hosted by Almazbek Atambayev, the President of Kyrgyz Republic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Snow leopards are famously elusive, but the message they convey is easy to find. We are all responsible for the survival of these magnificent big cats and their environment. As few as 4,000 snow leopards remain in the wild across 12 countries in Central, East and South Asia. Shrinking habitats, poaching and climate change all threaten their existence.”

Guterres said investing in the snow leopard’s fragile mountain habitats is essential for people and planet — for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Comprehensive transboundary strategies are needed to restore snow leopard populations, he added.

“We must work together to end illegal wildlife trade, stop habitat fragmentation and prevent human-wildlife conflicts. Broader issues also need to be addressed in the regions where snow leopards exist, including stopping environmental degradation, increasing prosperity and supporting the transition to more inclusive, greener economies,” the UN Secretary-General said.

As part of the Forum, a day-long symposium on science, conservation and climate change in Central Asia was held on August 23. Thematic sessions included Climate Change in the Snow Leopard Range Areas, Technology and Innovation in Snow Leopard Research and Conservation, Sustainable Finance, Community-based Conservation in Snow Leopard Range Areas, and Field Studies and Conservation in Practice. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 August 2017]

Photo: A snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan’s Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary. Credit: SLF Kyrgyzstan / Snow Leopard Trust

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate. –

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