By Ali Jabir
ISLAMABAD, Jan 31 (APP):The human and wildlife conflict may increase between the resident of Northern Areas and Snow Leopard the vulnerable big cat inhabiting the snow-clad mountains of transboundary region of the Himalayas sprawling over Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).Pakistan Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Programme (PSLEP) National Project Manager, Jaffar Ud Din told APP that the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) under the supervision of the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) had initiated a GEF-UNDP funded five-year project since, 2018 to address the issue.
He said, “Snow Leopard is a vulnerable species at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered species and Endangered Species in Pakistan that has been facing a myriad of socio-ecological threats and requires a holistic conservation approach at landscape level.”
He said the impact of climate change in tandem with the growing population of domestic livestock and dependency of remote and disadvantaged communities on the natural resources for sustenance is triggering intrusion into Snow Leopard’s habitat and as a consequence attacks on livestock of local farmers is mounting the conflict.
Jaffar mentioned that competition between wild sheep, goats and increasing domestic livestock for food in its natural environment of snowy mountains had also forced the Snow Leopard to feed on livestock, being a comparatively easy meal.
In a research co-authored by Jaffar ud Din that aimed to assess the intensity of livestock predation, and resulting perceptions, by snow leopards and wolves across the Afghani, Pakistani and Tajik Pamir range during the period January 2008 to June 2012 revealed that livestock mortality due to disease was a serious threat to livestock with an average 3.5 animal heads per household per year. It added that the livestock loss due to disease was causing economic losses to the rural economy of an average US$352 per household per year as compared to predation of 1.78 animal heads per household per year, US$ 191 in the three study sites.
The research had also found that overall, 1,419 (315 per year) heads of livestock were reportedly killed by snow leopards (47 percent of the total animals) and 53 percent of the total 1,419 animals were hunted by wolves in the study sites.SLF, he said, under the PSLEP project had introduced multiple interventions from capacity building of local farmers, awareness and education pertaining to Snow Leopard’s vulnerability, vaccination of livestock, livestock insurance, modern enclosures to avoid the big cat’s attacks on livestock in human settlements.
He added that the major intervention implemented was development of Conservation Tourism sites aiming to promote local livelihoods and Conservation to prevent damage to the habitat of Snow Leopards.
Under this initiative, the first site was developed at Hopper valley, Nagar district of Gilgit Baltistan and will be operational by Spring 2021, the National Project Manager said.
“Under the Conservation Tourism sites we are encouraging tourists to contribute in preserving environment and community development by planting a tree or any assistance complying with their skills and availability like doctors to provide medical guidance to local people, engineers may help improve infrastructure and etc.” The project is planning to establish a few more sites in 2021.
He said in order to engage children in the conservation measures Nature Clubs were established in schools to make children aware of the vulnerable species of Snow Leopard and own the big cat as their community symbol and not a threat.
He said there were also skill development programmes initiated under PSLEP to provide alternate livelihood sources to local communities other than livestock farming which was their only source of income.
“The project gives due consideration to gender parity in the initiative as both males and females are being trained under the skill development programs.
The women are particularly trained to produce local artifacts and cultural goods with a modern blend. This program aims to preserve the embroidery skills passed on from generations to next generation and to promote the traditional motifs enriched with colors. This program also enables the local women to earn and contribute to their household income.”
The training of wildlife and livestock guards was also the part of PSLEP whereas post graduate students were also its part to assist research and survey under the project, he added.