Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kyrgyzstan Aims to Save the Snow Leopard

A snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan mountain range. 

In Kyrgyzstan, it has been found that the snow leopard population has been dwindling prompting the nation to look for ways to keep the species growing. In October, the capital city of Bishkek hosted the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum attracting participants from twelve countries making up the snow leopard's habitat along with biologists and environmentalists. One of the major topics of concern was the animal's situation in Kyrgyzstan. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that roughly 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards remain in the wild, with 150 to 500 in Kyrgyzstan. According to Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, the population in Kyrgyzstan has dwindled by half in twenty years. At the end of the forum, participants agreed to a 2014-2020 global program with a planned budget of $190 million for conserving the snow leopard's habitat in the twelve countries. The countries are hoped for donating more than half of the financing with the remaining coming from international organizations. The project will take multifaceted approach, which includes establishing a future Khan-Tengri National Park next to the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve which is home to about 25 snow leopards. In addition, Kyrgyzstan has approved a national strategy which considers changes to the law, cooperation with local communities that exist together with snow leopards, establishment of reserves and sanctuaries, and even hunting regulations. Bishkek environmentalist and WWF consultant Azat Alamanov pointed out that it is necessary to administer a legal moratorium on hunting prey species which snow leopards consume. He further added that hunters are allowed to take seventy Marco Polo sheep per year which provides 3.6 million KGS ($72,000) in hunting license fees. The threat of poaching is another major issue, since the snow leopard's habitat is immense, mountainous, and hard to patrol making it an ideal place for poachers to carry out their illicit activities.

I'm very proud to see that Kyrgyzstan and a handful of other Asian countries where the snow leopard lives have come up with an agreement to protect the cat and ensure its survival. This upcoming project will aim at preserving the snow leopard and its habitat through a multitude of approaches. While the establishment of different nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries are crucial to the survival of the cat, I also feel that it is equally essential to work with local communities and educate them about the ecological importance of the snow leopard. In addition, these communities should also be educated about the dangers of poaching and what they can do to help. One simple way is to inform the authorities about any suspicious activities related to poaching in the mountains. This method was implemented by villagers in Pakistan, which recently witnessed a rise in its snow leopard population. Similarly, if local villagers in Kyrgyzstan follow the example of their Pakistani counterparts, it would help ensure the survival of the snow leopard and other local wildlife in the country.

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