Saturday, March 21, 2015

India Lagging Behind in Protecting Snow Leopards and their Habitat

Snow leopard

The first international governing committee meeting to organize conservation efforts for the magnificent and elusive snow leopard was held in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on 19 and 20 March 2015. It was attended by ministers, politicians, and conservation organizations from twelve range countries. Unfortunately, India was not represented in the committee by its minister or any of its high-ranking bureaucrats. The reason is because the basic enthusiasm to protect the snow leopard appears to have subsided. Under a management program titled Project Snow Leopard, which began on January 2009, Indian states that are part of the Himalaya range had to determine the most excellent areas that house snow leopards and outline management plans. Out of the five states, only Himachal Pradesh finished this process with help from Nature Conservation Foundation. Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, is trying to safeguard all of Ladakh with help from the Wildlife Institute of India instead of earmarking a specific landscape. Furthermore, project managers in several areas have not asked for support from local communities in snow leopard conservation, helped them with alternate occupations, or formed ways to minimize conflict with snow leopards. They probably believe that it is an abomination to invest money and effort in communities, indicating that they are used to a protected area-centric approach to conservation. However, Project Snow Leopard acknowledges that there is no other way to protect snow leopard habitat. Although the progress has been slow in the past six years, the state and central governments do not seem to be too worried about India's snow leopards.
Map showing India's snow leopard habitat and projected landscapes for conservation.

It is extremely disappointing to see that India is falling behind the protection of one of its most iconic animals in the world. The snow leopard may not be a national animal like the tiger or an animal associated with Hinduism like the elephant, but it is still considered to be an endangered species that continues to live under threat of habitat destruction and human encroachment. How can India give more priority to tigers and elephants which are considered to be "iconic" due to their religious and political significance? These animals suffer from the same threats that snow leopards face and are continuously falling prey to poachers to feed the insatiable appetite of public consumption. The snow leopard, like the tiger, is considered an apex predator. It's main function is to maintain balance in its mountain ecosystem by preying on herbivores like wild sheep and goats. But when local communities come into the scene, this creates tension between people and snow leopards especially when they have domestic livestock to care for. Managers of Project Snow Leopard did not seek local support in snow leopard conservation, help the communities with alternate livelihoods, or establish ways to prevent any conflicts between snow leopards and people. This shows that they did not live up to the standards of their national participatory management program and are a disgrace to the global conservation movement. Furthermore, their behavior and attitude can affect India's reputation in protecting threatened species like the snow leopard. The snow leopard is one several threatened species native to the Indian subcontinent and should be properly and efficiently protected, especially with a total population numbering between 400 and 700 individuals remaining.

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