Charudutt Mishra – From grassroots to global: Realising a conservation vision for snow leopards across their range
In 2013, Whitley Gold Award winner, Charudutt Mishra played a key role in bringing together the governments of all 12 snow leopard range countries for an international summit in Kyrgyzstan. The summit resulted in landmark commitments to protect these iconic cats, whilst acknowledging community involvement as a key principle for the future of snow leopards.
Fewer than 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild due to loss of habitat and wild prey, human-wildlife conflict and poaching. A lack of funding, political and industrial awareness and scientific information hinder conservation efforts.
“We envision a world where conservation of snow leopards and their mountain habitats are given a high place in the global agenda. Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré will help us ensure our philosophy of community-based, science-led conservation is embraced across Asia.” Charu Mishra
In its second year Charu’s project has made the following progress towards its goals:
Goal 1: Create the next generation of snow leopard conservation leaders in the most important range countries.
- Six Conservation Leaders have been supported, in India, Pakistan and Mongolia. This includes four women researchers, one of whom is the first female researcher hired by Snow Leopard Foundation in Pakistan. Each will complete a PhD and be given hands-on conservation training.
- Best practices in community-based conservation were published in a training toolkit entitled PARTNERS Principles. The document has been developed as a go-to for community conservation internationally, and training has been held with field staff and conservation leaders from four countries to date.
Goal 2: Generate political support for conservation of snow leopards and their mountain habitat in all twelve range countries.
- The Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) brought together governments from all 12 snow leopard range countries to agree a global strategy to conserve these big cats. Commitments have been made to identify and protect 23 priority landscapes for snow leopards by 2020. All 12 countries are now working on management plans for these landscapes. Through the GSLEP, five countries have submitted GEF6 pre-proposals worth $30 million for snow leopard conservation to help realise this goal.
- The Snow Leopard Trust was selected as executing agency for a $1 million USD grant from GEF5 to support key components and functioning of GSLEP. As a result of the programme, more funding than ever before is being allocated to support snow leopard conservation.
- Two high-level government meetings were held; one at COP21 in Paris 2015 and another in Nepal during 2016, where 9 snow leopard range countries began landscape-level planning to mitigate climate change effects.
Goal 3: Catalyse government-sanctioned protection of key snow leopard landscapes in 3 of the 5 most important range countries.
- Following a seven year campaign, in April 2016 the Government of Mongolia approved creating a new c. 8,000 km2 Nature Reserve in the Tost Mountains – the first state-level Protected Area declared specifically for snow leopard protection. Tost and the two adjoining National Parks now form one of the largest continuous protected areas for snow leopards in the world and are regarded as core habitat for snow leopard conservation and population connectivity.
- SLT launched a nationwide expansion of their Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program in Kyrgyzstan, which Partnership Funding helped pilot in 2014/15. The programme, which encourages rangers and local communities to combat poaching, now operates in all 20 of Kyrgyzstan’s National Parks. Training was delivered to 21 Protected Area rangers through Interpol, and a ceremony that honoured 10 rangers for apprehending poachers was held to give anti-poaching heroes well deserved recognition. There is now interest from the Government of Pakistan to adopt a similar programme.
- In Kyrgyzstan, an agreement was secured to convert a 100 square mile trophy hunting concession into a nature reserve. Co-managed by Government, NGOs and local people, the reserve will give ungulate populations a chance to recover, increasing prey for snow leopards. This approach could be replicated by Government in future. Again, this would not have been possible without the support of Partnership Funding.
Goal 4: Help develop a more sustainable cashmere industry for the benefit local communities and the snow leopard habitat. *Over-grazing and competition caused by increasing herds of cashmere goats to supply the growing industry degrades habitat for snow leopard prey, impacting food availability. SLT are working with communities and distributors to create a ‘snow leopard friendly cashmere’ brand based on sustainable grazing practices that benefit wildlife and increase income for herders.
- A MoU was signed with the largest cashmere cooperative in India to pilot a new Snow Leopard Friendly Cashmere program working with local communities to boost their income whilst benefiting snow leopards and their habitat. This cashmere will be this first of its kind.
Goal 5: Enhance social carrying capacity for snow leopards by strengthening community-based conservation initiatives in key snow leopard landscapes.
- Herders sold over 35,000 locally produced handicrafts, earning more than £45,000, through the NGO’s programme – Snow Leopard Enterprises – boosting income for communities.
- Nearly 100,000 livestock were vaccinated as part of an incentive-based livestock vaccination programme. In Pakistan livestock mortality was reduced by 50-80%, families in the vaccination programme experienced on average a 30% improvement in income and acceptance of predators increased.
- Over 1,100 children and 90 teachers living in snow leopard habitats took part in Nature Clubs, and 300 enjoyed outdoor eco-camps.
Goal 6: Improve scientific understanding of the ecology of the snow leopard and associated biodiversity, and the threats they face, to enable better conservation management.
- Through GPS collaring and population surveys using trap cameras, the project has amassed the largest datasets in the world for snow leopard locations and images. 20 snow leopards have been collared to track their movements. This is higher than all other previous collaring studies put together! These data will be used to determine snow leopard range size and help design and manage protected areas.
- The first ever study was launched on disease ecology of snow leopards during year 1 of the project. Samples from snow leopards, water sources and associated wildlife were collected. Preliminary analysis shows numerous pathogens crossing several species, shedding light on disease vectors in multi-use landscapes and highlighting the importance of healthy ecosystems.
- A multi-country study into the impact of climate change and grazing on snow leopard habitat was launched during year 1 of the project. Three countries are now using outdoor ‘living laboratories’ to collect comparative data on the effects of climate change on snow leopards habitat, and research into snow leopard adaptions to climate change has been submitted for publication.