The worldwide plight of the Felidae is well known. Tigers are down to a mere 3,500 individuals. Snow leopards may have only 3,500-7,000 representatives. Cat conservation faces numerous problems, including habitat loss, depletion of prey bases, human-livestock conflict, and an extensive Asian black market for wildlife parts.
However, numerous organizations are facing these odds and working to make a difference at large and small scales across the world. Given that much of their effort is unsung, I would like to use this series of posts to expose some of their work to the large audience that KOS provides.
Note that while I am pursuing felid conservation as a career, I have no tie to any of the organizations I will be featuring in these posts.
1. Panthera, The Snow Leopard Trust, Shan Shui, and other organizations partner with Buddhist monasteries to conserve snow leopards.
Photo credit: Tom McCarthy
The elusive snow leopard is a big cat living in the rugged, mountainous habitats of the Himalayas. Found in 12 countries, snow leopards are wide-ranging and sparsely populated. However, 60% of their population is thought to occur in China. Research performed by Panthera, The Snow Leopard Trust, Shan Shui, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other organizations (linked here) emphasized the importance of Buddhist monasteries in conserving the cat.
The Sanjianyuan region of China holds 89,602 square kilometers of snow leopard habitat. Of this habitat, 7674 square kilometers lie within core protected regions, while an additional 8342 square kilometers lie in or adjacent to mountain Buddhist monasteries. Surveys of goat herders and other peoples living within those Buddhist regions indicate that reverence for the snow leopard and other wildlife is high, with very few people reporting any killing wildlife. This is enforced by active education on the part of the Buddhist monks living in the region. In addition to the community engagement provided by Buddhist monks, conservation organizations have trained the monks to collect data on snow leopard presence via camera traps and other technology.
Photo credit: Shan Shui/PKU
In the three years the program has been active, there have been no reports of snow leopards killed within the study area. Extending this program to the rest of the Himalaya could cover as much as 80% of the snow leopard's range.
Photo credit: Shan Shui / Panthera / SLT
An in-depth interview with Tom McCarthy, one of the scientists working on these programs, can be found here.
If you wish to learn more about the conservation organizations performing this work, or want to donate to their causes, feel free to click on any of the following links: