Project Snow Leopard, Pakistan

The Northern Areas, Pakistan, is one of the poorest regions of the country, itself one of the poorest countries in the world. This human poverty is contrasted with the region’s biological richness, an area containing mountain ranges that are among the world’s highest and a diverse range of flora and fauna. This area is also one of the last remaining places in the world where snow leopard can still be found.

Listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, snow leopards currently survive in small population pockets across high-altitude Asia, and face extinction. As the natural wild prey of the snow leopard decline, out-competed by the growing number of livestock grazing the mountains, snow leopards increasingly prey on domestic livestock leading to retaliatory killings by farmers desperate to make a living for themselves and their families. The trade in wild snow leopard parts for the fur and Chinese medicinal trade also drives unsustainable hunting levels, and as the number of snow leopards fall, genetic isolation is also becoming a threat to the species.

Shafqat Hussain is a Policy Fellow in the Sustainable Use Initiative at the IUCN, Washington DC and expert on the snow leopard in Pakistan. Having spent five years working in Pakistan, his country of birth, on biodiversity conservation with the IUCN, Shafqat knows that for there to be any hope of survival for the snow leopard, the conflict between these animals and livestock herders needs to be resolved.

A runner-up in the Whitley Awards 1999, Shafqat and Project Snow Leopard (PSL) have developed a project that combines surveys of this little-studied species to understand its behaviour and biology with conservation awareness programmes for local communities, utilising local media such as theatre and radio. A key component of the project is the introduction of an innovative insurance scheme to reduce the economic impact that livestock predation by snow leopards has on individual farmers.

Utilising funds received from the Whitley Fund for Nature, Shafqat and his team have successfully implemented the project in Skoyo valley in the Baltistan region of Northern Pakistan. Significant progress has been made, and education, in combination with the community-based insurance scheme, has reduced the number of retaliatory killings. The insurance scheme has been partially supported by the introduction of ecotourism activities, such as snow leopard treks, to generate further income for the insurance fund.

Through creating the right mix of incentives for community members, combining the insurance scheme with ecotourism activities and education, PSL has been able to institutionalise an incentive structure conducive to snow leopard conservation friendly behavior, and thus bring about a discernable behavioral change amongst villagers. PSL’s annual biological and attitudinal surveys show that the two main goals – a stable snow leopard population and a positive change in the attitude of the people towards the snow leopard – are being achieved.

Following the success of his original project, Shafqat received Continuation Funding in early 2003 to enable him to further develop Project Snow Leopard. Before the initiation of the project, villagers complained about the presence of snow leopards in the valley and requested the local wildlife department staff and conservation NGOs to take “their” snow leopard away. PSL’s innovative project has alleviated the farmers’ hardship and created a flow of real economic benefits to the community, leading to a new sense of ownership and desire for stewardship towards these enigmatic big cats.

Since the start of PSL, seven claims for livestock lost to the snow leopard have been filed to the insurance scheme, and compensation paid out. PSL has become well known in communities adjacent to the original project valley, as well as among the conservation community, locally, nationally and internationally, leading to opportunities to replicate the project and its success in neighbouring communities.

PSL has carried out snow leopard status and distribution surveys since 1999, the results of which have subsequently been published in the scientific journal of FFI, Oryx (vol 37, no 1).

SHAFQAT’S WORK MENTIONED IN ‘THE DIRECTOR’

February 6th 2007

UK magazine ‘The Director’ has published a piece on Project Snow Leopard and Shafqat’s original work in an article entitled ‘ Protecting the Snow Leopard through Business’.

PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT REPLICATES SNOWLEOPARD INSURANCE SCHEME

November 6th 2006

The Pakistani government is launching a snow leopard scheme in Northern Pakistan based on Shafqat’s successful pilot project. It is hoped replication of the work will be an important step in helping to conserve Pakistan’s last snowleopards.

SHAFQAT WINS ASSOCIATE LAUREATE ROLEX PRIZE

October 30th 2006

Congratulations to Shafqat Husseain who has become a 2006 Rolex Prize Associate Laureate. As a runner-up, he received a financial award as well as worldwide recognition for Project Snow Leopard. The Rolex Awards support exceptional men and women who are breaking new ground in areas which advance human knowledge and well-being, in Science & Medicine, Technology & Innovation, Exploration & Discovery and Environment.

Full winners list