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Nepal ‘prioritised’ for global effort to save snow leopards


Identifying Nepal as one of the rarest sanctuaries for the endangered snow leopard, the world community and the conservationists have put the country in the top priority of the global action plan to protect the animal.

Nepal’s Himalayas host as many as one-fifth of the world’s total snow leopard population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are only 12 countries, including Nepal, where the last remaining 5,000 snow leopards are surviving. Studies show that these wild cats are disappearing rapidly from the planet. 

While there is no exact official data, government estimate has it that there are roughly 500 leopards in the Kanchanjangha Conservation Area, the Annapurna Conservation Area, the Langtang National Park, the Sagarmatha National Park, the Shey Phoksundo National Park and other areas of the Himalayan range that spreads over a stretch of 850 kilometres. Rough estimates by various independent researchers indicate that though the population of the snow leopard almost decreased to 200 in the 1970s, the number gradually increased to around 400-500 by the 2010s and it has remained stagnant since. This has given a new hope for the national and international community to turn to Nepal for snow leopard conservation.

“It is a matter of concern that the world’s most precious wildlife is disappearing rapidly and it makes a lot of sense when the world leaders agree to do something concrete in a country like Nepal which has the most suitable habitat for the animal,” said Maheshwor Dhakal, under-secretary at the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation.

Dhakal was one of the Nepali delegates who attended the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that concluded on Wednesday, adopting a declaration on the conservation of the snow leopard and their habitats. “The world global action plan that keeps Nepal on the top of its priority is expected to help the country protect the animal,” Dhakal said.

During the conference, Nepal and other 12 counties hosting the wildlife acknowledged the need to act now with the resolution and authority to protect and recover snow leopard populations and their fragile habitats.

As part of the action plan, the governments have shared a common goal to intensify conservation efforts in the large landscapes required for snow leopard survival by identifying and designating critical habitats of key snow leopard populations as no-go areas for destructive land uses, maintaining their integrity and connectivity through natural corridors, and strengthening their protection on the ground. The global action plan also aims to control illegal trade of wildlife body parts. 

While the poaching of the show leopard has been one of the major challenges for conservationists in Nepal, recent interventions by the government seem to have paid off relatively well. In a bid to discourage people’s retaliatory attacks on the wild animal, the government provides compensation to people who lose their livestock to snow leopards, which often tend to venture out into human settlements in search of prey. 

“The programme on livestock insurance that compensates the farmers for the loss is one of the very innovative community-based conservation efforts,” said Ghana Shyam Gurung, conservation programme director at the WWF Nepal. “There needs to be more of such efforts in other areas of the country where snow leopards are found.” 

As other large wild cats like Tiger, the high demand of wildlife body parts in the international market has led to illegal hunting of snow leopards for the pelt, a sought-after commodity in places like Central Asia and Eastern Europe where they are turned into coats and other garments. Conservationists say loss of prey species, habitat degradation and climate change have also led to the dwindling population of snow leopards globally.

Besides Nepal, snow leopards are also found in China, India, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.

Posted on: 2013-10-26 08:33