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Catwalk Cashmere Threatens Snow Leopards

A new report, co-authored by Whitley Award winner, Charu Mishra, Science and Conservation Director of the Snow Leopard Trust,  and an international team comprising of Joel Berger and Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar, both of the Wildlife Conservation Society, shows that the global demand for cashmere garments is making fashion victims of endangered snow leopards (Panthera uncial) and other native large mammals in Central Asia.

The UK is among the top four leading importers of Mongolian cashmere, a trade which has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry since socialist countries such as China and Mongolia have transitioned to free markets. To support global demand for the luxurious lightweight goat hair, local herders across Mongolia, India and China’s Tibetan Plateau have significantly increased livestock production. In Mongolia alone, numbers of domestic goats have grown consistently, from 5 million heads in 1990 to close to 14 million in 2010.

This growth in livestock is increasing the threats to endangered mammals in Central Asia such as the saiga (Saiga tartarica), chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni), native wild horses (Equus ferus przewalskii), ibex (Capra sibirica), argali (Ovis ammon) and bharal (Pseudois nayaur). Domestic goats compete with these native herbivores for the same plant food source. The wild mammals are also suffering from a reduction in their range and displacement to marginal habitats and risk being killed by feral and domestic dogs that accompany the herders. Human-animal conflict is also on the increase as livestock and large carnivores such as the endangered snow leopard interact more, leading to retaliatory killings by herders.

The latest research by Mishra’s group – published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology – shows that ultimately, the population of wild sheep and goats determines the population of the snow leopard. As the wild prey of the snow leopard is outcompeted by livestock, the snow leopard loses ground.

Explains Mishra: “Cashmere production is a complicated human issue. Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem. By improving our understanding of the relationship between indigenous herders, local ecology and global markets, we can implement policies at the national and international level which are better designed to protect biodiversity while supporting the livelihoods of local communities.”

Mishra has a track record of combining rigorous scientific research with impressive negotiation tactics at community and government levels to resolve human-animal conflict. A 2005 recipient of the prestigious international ‘green Oscar’ for conservation, the Whitley Award, Mishra now works across the snow leopard range countries of India, Pakistan, China, Mongolia and Kyrgyztan. The Whitley Fund for Nature has developed a long-term partnership with Mishra and regularly supports his ground-breaking work through continuation grants.

“Winning a Whitley Award was a watershed moment in being able to upscale snow leopard conservation,” says Mishra. “Thanks to the Award, we have been able to broker effective international alliances and conservation efforts have expanded from the successful management model, mitigation measures and inclusive conservation approach we devised in India, to sharing this with others across the snow leopard’s vast range.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Whitley Awards as well as another milestone for snow leopard conservation. Mishra and his colleagues are brokering international support for snow leopards among the highest echelons of government. They expect the Heads of State from a majority of the twelve snow leopard range countries to meet together in autumn later this year for the first time, to pledge their united support for the big cat’s conservation.

MEDIA CONTACTS

For further information, images, or to arrange interviews contact: Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on 01235 835297 / 07977 459547 or via email to sp@firebirdpr.co.uk

Notes to Editors

• Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its flagship Whitley Awards, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world.

• The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth up to £35,000 to be spent over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.

• WFN operates a rigorous science-based application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK and Fauna and Flora International.

• The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working in developing countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Firebird PR.

• Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground. Each grant is worth up to £60,000 for projects of between one to two years in length.

• WFN is generously supported by: HSBC Holdings Plc.; The William Brake Charitable Trust; Natasha and George Duffield; The Evolution Education Trust; Goldman Sachs; The LJC Fund; The Rufford Foundation; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; the Shears Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; Garfield Weston Foundation; WWF-UK; and many individual donors.

• Charudutt Mishra founded The Snow Leopard Network, a worldwide organisation dedicated to facilitating the exchange of information between individuals around the world for the purpose of snow leopard conservation. Membership includes leading snow leopard experts in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Mishra is also Science and Conservation Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, a US charity working to protect the snow leopard and its Central Asian habitat.