SCI Foundation recently partnered with Project Snow Leopard (PSL), an innovative partnership between the community and private enterprise, which supports a livestock insurance program to compensate local farmers for losses caused by snow leopards in Northern Pakistan. PSL aims to reduce conflict and bring about long term attitude changes in local farmers, conservationists and state officials in terms of how they perceive snow leopards.
Snow leopards are widely distributed throughout the Himalayan mountain system of Central Asia, favoring steep terrain, cliffs, ridges and rocky outcrops. Population estimates range between 4,080 and 6,590 individuals. However, an IUCN report states that Snow Leopards are suspected to have declined by at least 20 percent over the past 16 years due to habitat and prey loss, poaching and persecution.
Throughout the snow leopard’s habitat, protection of the species tends to conflict with the livelihoods of local mountain farmers. Snow Leopards prey on large mammals such as ibex, with a kill occurring once every 10 to 15 days. However, the expanding agricultural industry and poaching causes the snow leopard prey base to be displaced and depleted, forcing snow leopards to seek other sources of food. Livestock is a major component of farmers’ livelihoods. Livestock are permitted to graze freely, making them easy targets for these fierce predators and rendering them the Happy Meal of snow leopard cuisine. Farmers react by pursuing and shooting the snow leopard, or leaving poisoned carcasses for it to eat.
To reduce the amount of retaliatory killings, the project works to change the current structure that is propelling the snow leopard-farmers conflict by providing incentives to locals to conserve snow leopards and their prey species. The main activity of the project is the introduction of a community-based livestock insurance program, where local communities and PSL pay money into a fund that is used for compensating farmers for their losses of livestock. PSL also facilitates and encourages local villagers to invest in and support the government sponsored trophy hunting program. The population of wild ungulates needs to increase in order to curb livestock predation. Facilitating trophy hunting of wild ungulates will provide a means of increasing their value in the economic lives of the local people.
Currently, a population survey is underway that will be compared to a 2008 survey to gauge PSL’s progress with snow leopard management. Population research is expected to conclude this summer and allow for the other initiatives of PSL to proceed.
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