Range Countries Pledge to Save Snow Leopard

November 14, 2013

Countries Converge in Kyrgyz Republic for New Global Initiative to Conserve the Snow Leopard and High-Mountain Ecosystems.

President Atambayev announces snow leopard recovery program to confront poaching, manage landscapes, assist mountain communities and address climate change threats.

October 23, 2013, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic – President Almazbek Atambayev of the Kyrgyz Republic and officials representing 12 Central and South Asian countries outlined and endorsed an ambitious new global initiative in Bishkek today to protect and conserve critical ecosystems in high-mountain landscapes inhabited by the iconic but endangered snow leopard. Joining with conservation experts from around the world and the international donor community, the 12 nations* endorsed the Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program (GSLEP).

“I deeply appreciate the fact that our initiative to organize a Global Snow Leopard Forum in Bishkek was supported by the range countries as well as by international and non-governmental environmental organizations. By endorsing Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program range countries are committing to scaling up joint snow leopard conservation efforts,” said Almazbek Atambayev, President of the Kyrgyz Republic, in his welcome address to Forum participants. “If we do not take decisive measures to protect the snow leopard today, we will forever loose this priceless animal, a true gift of nature. Today we are taking first steps. I am confident that together we will be able to achieve the goal we set – to protect our beautiful nature and the symbol of our mountains, the snow leopard.”

WildCRU’s Philip Riordan, has been providing support to this initiative since its inception in 2012 and said, “I am delighted to see this progress and proud to have been instrumental to such an historic outcome”.

Threats to the snow leopard and its high-mountain habitats are increasing. In addition to the problems of encroaching development and infrastructure, the species is vulnerable to poaching and also to persecution by herders due to snow leopard attacks on livestock. Experts estimate the worldwide population of snow leopards at between 3,900 and 6,400. Their fate depends on the sustainability and conservation of mountain-steppe and mountain tundra in the region.

The iconic cats are also likely to feel the effects of climate change over time. Retreating glaciers in Central Asia could increase the risk of droughts, and increased scarcity of water may impact pastures and the availability of food for both wild prey and domestic livestock.

The Global Forum is meant to sound the alarm about the increased threats to the survival of snow leopards and the critical ecosystems they inhabit, and also to initiate implementation of the GSLEP, a long-term, science-based global conservation strategy. It represents the first time the countries are working together in the region to protect a species.

Goals of the Forum

In the Bishkek Declaration, the 12 countries “pledge to ensure that snow leopards and the people who live among them thrive in healthy ecosystems that contribute to the prosperity and well-being of our countries and the planet.”  At the Forum, delegations from the range countries and experts reached beyond this basic aspiration to set a solid and measurable goal by 2020 that would commit countries to work together to identify and secure at least 20 healthy landscapes of snow leopards across the cat’s range by 2020, or ‘Secure 20 by 2020.’

“Range countries’ investment in the conservation of the snow leopard will help achieve critical development outcomes in Central and South Asia, particularly in the sustainable management of scarce natural resources, as well as in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Conservation and strong regional cooperation will help local communities with alternative income-generating opportunities, drastically reduce poaching and the illicit trade in wildlife,” said World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia Saroj Kumar Jha.

Countries unanimously endorsed the comprehensive new global program today, promising a multifaceted approach across the snow leopard range to:

  • Engage local communities in conservation, promote sustainable livelihoods, and address human-wildlife conflict;
  • Combat poaching and illegal trade networks, including through transboundary collaboration and enforcement;
  • Seek to manage habitats on a landscape level;
  • Work with industry and enterprises that operate in snow leopard habitats;
  • Establish a core Secretariat to coordinate conservation activities, monitor program implementation, and mobilize financial resources for the program

This week’s forum marks a milestone moment where all the countries expressed willingness to come together on national strategies and seek support from the international donor community toward a common agenda. A major starting point is collaboration on intensified scientific research and monitoring in snow leopard habitats, all of which are in remote regions where adequate baseline data are rarely available.

President Atambayev initiated the multi-country effort in 2012, reaching out to international organizations such as the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, and United Nations Development Programme to help organize the high-level meetings and gain support from aid organizations and international donors to lend financial support to the 12 range countries.