Community-Based Snow Leopard Conservation
in Pakistan’s Northern Areas: Baltistan
The Conservancy’s first community partnership in Pakistan began in 2004, with conservation and education activities in Skyo and Hushe villages in Baltistan. Our partner in Baltistan is Project Snow Leopard, which works under the umbrella of the Balistan Wildlife Conservation & Development Organization. Our collaborative programs focus on corral predator-proofing, improved livestock guarding and livestock insurance programs, environmental education, outreach, and community-based monitoring using snow leopard sign surveys, periodic prey counts and camera trap surveys.
Project Snow Leopard (PSL) is an innovative partnership between the community and private enterprise that supports a livestock insurance program to compensate local farmers for losses caused by snow leopards. It was founded in 1999 by Shafqat Hussain, who went on to earn his Doctorate at Yale, to receive an Associate Laureate Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006, and to become National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorer for 2009.
In 2005, the Snow Leopard Conservancy partnered with PSL to train Skoyo villagers in camera trapping, with periodic monitoring supported by Project Snow Leopard. To date they have collected images from at least 3 snow leopards.
In 2006 Project Snow Leopard was incorporated into the new NGO, Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization, which Shafqat continues to advise. Ghulam Mohammed provides local leadership and coordination.
Originally, Shafqat’s ecotourism company, Full Moon Night Trekking, provided financial support to subsidize the insurance program. Farmers helped finance the plan through payment of premiums for each head of livestock owned, with the balance of funds intended to accrue from profits of snow leopard trekking tours and expeditions. The insurance plan was managed jointly by the village management committee and Project Snow Leopard staff. The plan was structured so villagers monitored its performance.
Project Snow Leopard’s success is evident in the awards it has received, in the snow leopard images captured on camera, and the wide community support for snow leopard conservation. But over the past decade, conditions in Pakistan led to a steady decline in mountaineering and trekking tourism, so that revenues intended to partially subsidize the livestock insurance program have also dwindled. The Snow Leopard Conservancy has steadily supported the work, and PSL has benefited from Shafqat’s Rolex Award and other international funding. But long term sustainability and ownership by the community will depend upon alternative internal co-financing, such as fees from the government’s markhor trophy hunting program, matching donor grants, in-kind veterinary services, or increased premiums from the participating households.
Clearly, incentives linked with biodiversity conservation have to be carefully designed, as shown in the case of the Mountain Areas Conservancy Project. Eighty percent of the $25,000 fee from Pakistan’s international markhor trophy hunting program accrues to villagers in and near the hunting grounds for this highly sought-after wild goat. Markhor are the natural prey for snow leopards. And so we were very surprised when some villagers demanded compensation for loss of “their” markhor killed by snow leopards!
In another part of Baltistan, in the village of Hushe, the Snow Leopard Conservancy initiated a conservation program in 2003. In the following year villagers released a snow leopard that had entered a livestock pen and killed many sheep and goats. In the past, they would immediately kill a stock-raiding cat, but the release of this snow leopard clearly indicated the importance of providing communities with incentives to protect the species. For their actions, the Snow Leopard Conservancy nominated Hushe for the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund’s 2004 Hero Award for all of Asia. Hushe village’s demonstration of changing attitudes won them this award.