Receding snowline in Asia’s high mountains, due to global warming and infrastructure developments, poses a major threat to snow leopard as humans encroach on their habitat. “I love the snow leopard,” says bright-eyed Ganaium, who lives in Tamchy village close to Issyk-kul lake in Kyrgyzstan. “I haven’t seen it but I know about it from TV and pictures,” says the four-year-old student of Jashmooun school.
The solitary animal faces multiple challenges. The big cat, Ganaium’s favourite, is threatened by a combination of factors. Global warming could wipe out more than two-thirds of snow leopard habitat in the next 50 years, according to WWF International. “If we continue with business as usual, we could witness a two-thirds decline in wildlife from 1970 to 2020. We’re at a crucial time to bend the curve and halt the decline of nature.
However, this is not only about the wildlife we love,” says Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. “Safeguarding a future for snow leopards means protecting their vast habitats, on which hundreds of millions of people depend for freshwater and livelihoods.”
The high mountains of Asia are among the most vulnerable in the world to climate change. These ecosystems provide numerous benefits such as water, grasslands for livestock and wildlife, eco-tourism, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Unfortunately, they are already experiencing the effects of climate change through melting glaciers, destabilisation of the permafrost, increasingly frequent and intense storms, and disasters such as landslides, floods and droughts. With rising temperatures and a shift in rainfall patterns, these mountains and their ecological services are undergoing a major shift, making it difficult for communities and wildlife to cope.
Receding snowline
“According to climate change predictions, temperatures are going to get warmer [and] that will push the vegetation uphill beyond the snow line. This would lead to sheep and cows accessing grazing areas higher up in the mountains, right up to snow leopard areas,” Kate Newman, vice president for public sector initiatives at WWF says, “It will possibly mean additional pressure on the snow leopards as conflicts are likely to increase which would increase retaliatory killings of snow leopards.” Retaliatory killings of snow leopards by pastoral communities are already a major threat. “If a snow leopard manages to enter a corral, a herder can lose up to 50 animals in one night because these animals are enclosed in one area, so there is a complete panic when a predator enters,” Charudutt Mishra, science and conservation director of the Snow Leopard Trust told us.
As more and more communities leave their nomadic ways behind and settling in fixed spots, this has increased the pressures on grasslands on which the snow leopards’ prey depend. Coupled with infrastructure projects that would cut through many snow leopard landscapes, the coming years will push the species even closer to the brink.
Infrastructure fallout
”It is not just the snow leopard, but its landscape that is under threat. “We see an increasing level of natural disasters. How are we going to respond to it? Are we still going to build new roads and infrastructure or are we going to become more climate-smart? Even if we have to do structural development, can we do it in a more climate smart manner?” asks Mishra. “The real challenge is not what climate change will do to these animals but what will we do as consequence?”
“The biggest threat we are facing is climate change. Snow mountain ecosystem is one threatened by climate change. The average rise in temperature in the last decade was 0.5 degrees Celsius globally but now our growth rate has become such that by the end of this century the expected rise in temperature is 4-6 degrees Celsius,” said Siddhanta Das, director general of the Forests of India to the forum. According to its findings, the big cat is most threatened in Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan and Tajikistan due to the emerging threat of climate change. Read More

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