Climate change threat to snow leopard, says report

330 mn people near rivers originating in high-altitude fragile mountain habitat that spans many of Asia’s major watersheds and directly depend on them for water needs also at risk, says report


The snow leopard is counted as a critically endangered species by the environment ministry. Photo: AP
The snow leopard is counted as a critically endangered species by the environment ministry. Photo: AP

New Delhi: Over one-third of the habitat of the endangered snow leopard could be rendered unsuitable if climate change is not checked, said a report released on Friday.

The report said it is not just snow leopards that are at risk in the high-altitude fragile mountain habitat that spans many of Asia’s major watersheds. Over 330 million people living within 10km of rivers originating in the territory directly depend on them for their daily water needs.

“Climate change could drastically alter the flow of water from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of vast numbers of people across the continent,” said the report, calling for urgent action.

The report, Fragile Connections: Snow leopards, people, water and the global climate, by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an international non-governmental organization, was released on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day.

“Warmer temperatures could see the tree line shifting up the mountains and farmers planting crops and grazing livestock at higher altitudes, squeezing the remaining snow leopards into smaller pockets,” it said.

The snow leopard is counted as a critically endangered species by the environment ministry.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the snow leopard is an endangered species as there are only about 4,000 left across the world. In India, its population is between 200 and 600.

“The snow leopard is considered to be the guardian and indicator species of the high mountains of Asia. Mysterious and elusive, the cat has fascinated explorers, researcher and conservationists across the world. With an estimated population of 600 cats, India has been a leading player in the conservation efforts to secure the snow leopard and its habitat in the Himalayas,” said Ravi Singh, secretary general and CEO, WWF India.

“The WWF campaign on the snow leopard is an initiative that will help the conservation of the species and (tackle) the threats it faces globally,” he added.

WWF India is involved in nature conservation and protection, apart from several projects in areas like biodiversity, enviro-legal action, policy studies and advocacy.

The primary reasons for the decline in population of snow leopards are habitat loss and degradation, poaching and conflict with communities.

“Unchecked, climate change will exacerbate these threats and could push the species over the edge,” the report warned.

The report also said less than 14% of snow leopard habitat had been covered by either research or conservation activities.

WWF India, in a statement, said it will continue to fund vital research, including the use of camera traps and satellite collaring, to collect more data on the snow leopard.

“The snow leopard is an iconic species and an indicator of ecological health of the Himalayas. Recent studies have shown that the combination of unsustainable land-use practices and effects of climate change have affected their population,” said Dipankar Ghose, director-species and landscapes at WWF India.

“The government, communities and conservationists now need to come together to conserve snow leopards by protecting their habitat, tackling poaching and protecting livelihoods of communities living in their habitat,” Ghose added.

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