Global warming puts snow leopards in a bind: study

The higher temperatures along with illegal hunting means that as few as 4,000 of the mysterious animals could be left


Afp October 24, 2015
A fifth of the snow leopard population has vanished in the past 16 years due to habitat loss, poaching and conflict with communities. PHOTO: WWF

GENEVA:


In what is turning out to be one of the hottest years on record, the warming temperatures pose an immediate threat to one of Pakistan’s most endangered creatures, the snow leopard.


A study by the World Wildlife Fund, released on Friday -- World Snow Leopard Day, says that the warming temperatures have caused ice to melt, further shrinking the cat’s habitat. The higher temperatures along with illegal hunting means that as few as 4,000 of the mysterious animals could be left in the high mountains of central Asia.

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Unless climate change is checked, more than a third of the habitat could vanish, with warmer temperatures pushing the tree line higher and farmers moving further up the mountains to plant crops and graze livestock, it added.

“Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish,” said Rishi Kumar Sharma, head of the fund’s global snow leopard conservation initiative.

Sami Tornikoski, head of a separate project by the fund to protect the natural diversity of the Himalayas, which features some of the world’s highest snowbound peaks, stressed climate change was only one of the problems. Worsening habitat loss and degradation, poaching and conflict with communities saw a fifth of the snow leopard population vanish in the past 16 years, the fund said.

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Unchecked, climate change will exacerbate these threats and could push the species over the edge, according to the study.

“Snow leopards won’t survive for long unless we tackle climate change alongside other threats such as poaching, retaliatory killings by herders, declining prey species and poorly planned development,” Tornikoski added. The conservation group says it will continue to fund vital snow leopard research, including the use of camera traps and collars tracked by satellite to learn more about the mysterious big cat.

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Just 14% of the animal’s habitat has been covered by research or conservation activities. But as part of the new strategy, the fund will also focus on mitigating the threat from climate change, protecting people’s livelihood, reducing conflict between the big cat and communities, and tackling poaching and trafficking.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.

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