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Snow Leopard Conservation Efforts Endangered by COVID-19

Conservation efforts leading to rise in snow leopard population in northern Pakistan (Courtesy: BWCDO)
Conservation efforts leading to rise in snow leopard population in northern Pakistan (Courtesy: BWCDO)
Snow Leopard Conservation Efforts Endangered by COVID-19
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Wild animal experts say increasing reports of snow leopard sightings in Pakistan show that conservation efforts there are working.

But the COVID-19 crisis is threatening the success of the effort in the northern mountains. The nonprofit Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO) has worked for more than 20 years to save the endangered cats. The BWCDO partners with several American charities on the effort.

About 8,000 snow leopards are believed to exist in the wild. Fewer than 400 of them live in Pakistan, mostly in the Gilgit-Baltistan area. The BWCDO is working with the local population to help protect the species, including setting up insurance systems to pay farmers whose animals are attacked by snow leopards.

Ghulam Muhammad leads the organization. He says it is working with the United States-based Iqra Fund on conservation education programs for Gilgit-Baltistan communities.

But the new coronavirus pandemic has affected financial support for these projects. Ghulam Muhammad said this may be harmful to the snow leopard conservation campaign.

Last month, BWCDO and The White Lion Foundation (TWLF) of Britain released a video of the call of a wild snow leopard in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains.

John Knight from TWLF said, “The adult male is exercising his vocal calls to establish territory and to let females know he is in the area.”

Knight added that the video is “extremely unusual” because snow leopards are naturally private creatures. They only come together to mate and raise their young.

Ghulam Muhammad said the video was recorded in February by cameras set up to observe the wild snow leopard population in the area. His team reported seeing a mother cat and her two young the following month.

The BWCDO leader said, “A mother and two cubs, especially so late in the season, tells us that snow leopard numbers are growing and that our method of creating a means for local communities to benefit from conservation are at the very least promising, and at best, successful.”

BWCDO is helping villagers build secure barriers to reduce snow leopard attacks. The organization also provides farm animal vaccination programs to reduce loss.

Researchers say the BWCDO’s work has helped protect and conserve a population of large wild goats called markhors. They also live in the high mountains of northern Pakistan.

Snow leopards hunt markhors. If there are enough markhors, the big cats will be less likely to kill farm animals for food.

The U.S.-based Snow Leopard Conservancy also has been an important financial supporter of the BWCDO. Current projects are supported through the end of this year. But, Ghulam Muhammad noted, no one knows what might happen with financial needs after 2020.

An estimated 3,650 snow leopards were killed over the last 10 years. In many cases the killers were illegal hunters involved in the trade of animal skins and other body parts. However, The White Lion Foundation says more than half were killed in answer to snow leopard attacks on farm animals.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Ayaz Gul reported on this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

benefitv. to be useful or profitable to

insurancen. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something such as a house or car if it is damaged, lost, or stolen

meansn. something that helps a person to get what he or she wants

vocaladj. of, relating to, or produced by the voice