Thursday, May 26, 2011

Snow Leopard: international cooperation underway to protect endangered Asian cat

Even though my primary interests are with the seas and their future, from time to time I turn back towards land and some of the apex predators, like tigers and wolves, that have been threatened by the encroachment of civilization.

Tigers are particularly beautiful animals that are seriously endangered with numbers ranging in only a few thousand throughout India and southern China. However, there is another cat that lives in the harsh terrain of China, Mongolia and India that is equally as striking as the tiger and, unfortunately, also threatened with extinction: the snow leopard.

The snow leopard is a relative newcomer to the conservation scene, having only been first photographed in the wild in the 1970s, with concerted efforts to protect this animal starting a decade later. The target of poachers who value its fur on the black market, the snow leopard's population has been estimated to be as low as 3,500.

However, casting a ray of hope on the future of this feline predator, an international joint effort is getting underway to protect the snow leopard, bringing together several conservation
organizations from the United Kingdom and Asia. Involved in this effort is UK's Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), and the BBC Wildlife Fund (the BBC brought the snow leopard to the attention of television viewers with rare footage shot for the Planet Earth series). Also involved are the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund in Mongolia, and members of China's Peking University. It is hoped that through this concerted, cooperative strategy, progress can be achieved in environmental education, community‐based wildlife monitoring, anti‐poaching programs, and cross‐collaboration between regional and national government offices.

According to a recent press release, Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Trustee of NCF and Science and Conservation Director of the SLT, said “This is the first large, multi‐country project of its kind for snow leopards and it’s a huge leap forward for the species.”

Believing that global efforts like these to protect a keystone species can set the stage for international cooperation to protect other endangered species, Georgina Domberger, Director of WFN, said
“It’s great to say you’re going to protect an endangered species—but what does that mean? We can’t save all of them at once, but we are coming up with a way to protect some of the most important population centers we can, and then we hope to build outwards from there. We all love snow leopards for their beauty and charisma, and since they are at the top of the wildlife pyramid, we know helping them will help the entire ecosystem.”

Let's hope that through global cooperation, Ms. Domberger's assessment that we can't save all of the endangered species at once will only be a passing reality. Threatened and endangered species are a reflection of our fate as well. Perhaps we can't stop the theorized Sixth Great Extinction that is taking place because of the impact of humankind, but I would like to think that we could certainly slow it down a notch or two. I'm sure the snow leopard would appreciate it.

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