By Shahrukh Nasim
The visualization is quite appealing, slightly smaller than large cats but the tail extending out tremendously. The extensive fur, along with its smoky gray and golden color makes it almost glamorous. They are known as “mountain ghosts” due to their elusive nature. They are known to adapt to the hardest environmental conditions. They tend to be unknown in whatever step they take in the wildlife.
One of the most exquisite creatures to walk on the mountains of Asia, the snow leopard is a remarkable animal, which is a symbol of national heritage in Pakistan. It is found in the Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan, its habitat spreading over an area range of 81,000 sq km. It is known for its excelling features which makes its identity distinguished and unique in the cat family. It is an exclusive symbol of the northern areas and is an important part of our ecological system. Its habitat is high altitudinal areas of 12 various countries. The carnivore stands on top of the food chains and has a prominent part in the ecology, culture and socio-economic system.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the specie as a part of the endangered list. The snow leopard is an important specie that has every given right to be a part of the high altitude ecosystem. It serves in all aspects of life, from being a conspicuous member of the food chain to being a beauteous symbolic animal of the country. It is without a doubt, that the issue of it being killed is not being recognized in Pakistan, to the level of attention it deserves. The reason why it is endangered is due to miscellaneous reasons, such as killing from livestock owners that attack the specie due to loss of livestock; killing for trade in body parts such as fur; habitat degradation; and climate change. The most prominent reason to its loss is the human-snow leopard conflict. Some species, such as snow leopard, tend to be recognized as profit for trade or a threat to the livestock of farmers. According to the Snow Leopard Trust, there are only between 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild. This is shameful because these reasons do not justify the killing of such flamboyant creatures. Lack of awareness is a prime issue that also links to its depopulation.
Proper and critical solutions, along with awareness must be provided to the masses as well, as livestock owners. The biggest threat evolves from the livestock owners, who attack snow leopards; because they believe that it affects their livestock on a high scale. However, experts are in view that most livestock die due to diseases and vaccinations rather than snow leopard attacks. That is why human led conflicts should be the smallest reason behind such snow leopard attacks.
In Pakistan, government institutions at both the federal and provincial levels should implement a more hands-on approach to conserving these majestic creatures. Along with non-governmental institutions, the conservation of snow leopards can only be situated through joint efforts rather than isolated strategies. This is evitable only through a general consensus among all organizations to have an action plan which can be agreed upon in a common manner. Communities should also join hands in order to save it. The local community should act as its guardians, and should become aware that it in fact does not harm them; rather it is an important part of the ecosystem, as well as the splendid culture of the nation. Another great aspect that could come into play is eco-tourism which could lead conservation in a more effected manner.
WWF-Pakistan plays a vital role in its part; by informing the importance of the snow leopards among local communities, organizing workshops seminars and discussions as well. This gives a chance for the masses to be sensitized in regards the problem and to make sure the human-leopard conflict is reduced.
Peter Jackson, Chairman of the Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said:
“If the lion is the King of the Beasts, and the tiger the King of the Jungle, the snow leopard is surely Queen of the High Mountains of Asia.”
The writer works for WWF-Pakistan, based in the head office, Lahore. He tweets at @shahrukhnasim_ and can be contacted at email@example.com