Asia

Protecting Pakistan's elusive snow leopards from human-wildlife conflict

Updated 0848 GMT (1648 HKT) March 25, 2022
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Environmental anthropologist Shafqat Hussain has been working to protect snow leopards in Gilgit-Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, for over 20 years. He describes the region as perhaps "the best snow leopard habitat in the world." This image was captured with a camera trap. Baltistan Wildlife Conservation & Development Organization/Snow Leopard Conservancy
The area is home to three of the highest mountain ranges on Earth. Rolex
Hussain estimates there are 30 to 50 snow leopards around the 26 villages in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, where he and his team work. Although it's hard to track their numbers, the snow leopard population is stable in the area, he says. Rolex
These markhor -- wild goats with impressive horns -- are one of the prey species of snow leopards, along with other mammals like ibex, blue sheep and marmots. Hussain says that without top predators like snow leopards, these prey species could explode in numbers, potentially leading to overgrazing of vegetation, which could in turn lead to soil erosion and landslides. Baltistan Wildlife Conservation & Development Organization/Snow Leopard Conservancy
Communities living in proximity to snow leopards incur losses to their livelihoods when the big cats prey on their livestock. Hussain has worked with these communities to set up compensation schemes to help pay for these losses. He says listening to the needs of local people is key to long-term conservation Rolex
Hussain (center) has been working with local communities in the region for over two decades. This photo taken in 1995 shows him with his colleagues and their children. The boy carried (left) has now become his assistant (see next photo). Hussain says building relationships with people is essential to maintaining conservation work in the long term. Shafqat Hussain
Hussain and his assistant, Sakhawat Ali, collect data from a camera trap installed to track snow leopards in their habitat near Hushe village. Saiyna Bashir/Rolex
Hussain also works on a conservation education program with local communities. He hopes that over the next 10 to 20 years, herding in the region will decline and these communities can find alternative livelihoods which will cause less conflict with snow leopards. Rolex