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File photo of a snow leopard in the Naltar Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan.
File photo of a snow leopard in the Naltar Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan.

GILGIT: Wildlife experts have expressed concern over an alarming decline in the population of snow leopards in Pakistan, citing climate change and lack of eco-friendly tourism as the leading factors behind threats to the species.

Speaking to Dawn, wildlife ecology scholar Shoaib Hameed said that climate change was the biggest threat to survival of snow leopards and other rare species in the northern areas. He said that due to climate change snow-covered areas that served as habitat to the species were rapidly decreasing.

Muhammad Kabir, who is a lecturer in the forestry and wildlife management depart­­­ment of University of Hari­pur, said that snow leopard was considered as the most beautiful species among wildcats.

There are only 11 countries in the world other than Pakistan where snow leopards are found.

Climate change, lack of eco-friendly tourism cited as reasons

At present, between 4,500 and 7,500 snow leopards exist across the world and in Pakistan, according to previous estimates, between 320 and 400 snow leopards were found in the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindukush.

Mr Kabir said the rare wildlife species was at the risk of facing extinction, adding that the factors contributing to the threat included habitat degradation caused by increasing human activities and decline of natural prey for snow leopards — ibex, markhor, Ladakh urial, Marco Polo and Blue sheep.

He said that snow leopards were healthy for the eco-system as it was the top predator; however, the ecosystem was being disturbed due to high demand for domestic livestock.

The lecturer added that since the cat preyed on livestock, shepherds killed snow leopards to ensure that their population was not affected.

Experts were of the view that there was a need for sustained awareness campaign across the range regarding protection of snow leopards.

Lack of eco-friendly tourism activities in its habitat, including allowing camping sites in wildlife protected areas, created disturbance for snow leopards, they said.

Mr Hamid said that trophy hunting also encouraged locals to illegally hunt snow leopard’s prey.

However, he added that government and non-government organisations were working for conservation of snow leopards in Pakistan and monitoring its population.

Currently, he said, the Snow Leopard Foundation was covering 40,000 square kilometres of its habitat with an aim to assess the cat’s population and conservation.

Safdar Mirza, an environmental activist, said that due to a lack of proper policies, and lack of implementation of existing laws as well as awareness campaigns, the wildlife species population was decreasing in its habitat in Gilgit-Baltistan.

He lamented that the government was working for promotion of tourism, including opening new tourist spots, but the protection of wildlife from these activities was being ignored.

Mr Mirza urged authorities to take this issue seriously as the rare wildlife species were at the risk of going extinct.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2018