The Kyrgyz Republic and representatives from 11 Central and South Asian countries made a historic pledge to protect and conserve snow leopards and their habitat in the high-mountain landscapes of Asia.
Joined by 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 and Ecosystem Protection Program. The declaration marks the first time that governments and non-governmental organizations have teamed up to conserve snow leopards and their habitat.
Like many species, the snow leopard is vulnerable to poaching driven by the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, snow leopards are killed by local farmers in retaliation for preying on livestock and face a declining habitat range due to overgrazing, infrastructure development and the impacts of climate change. It is estimated that less than 7,500 snow leopards remain in the world. The goal of the initiative is to protect 20 landscapes of snow leopards with over 100 breeding adults by 2020 and to promote sustainable development in areas where the species lives.
The summit and work of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic, the World Bank, range states and the other partners is bringing the plight of the snow leopard to the attention of the world. Saving snow leopards and managing the high-mountain landscapes of Asia also helps maintain water and food security for upland and downstream communities alike. Moreover, the mountain landscapes of Asia are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Building adaptation measures for conservation, local communities and national economies into the plan will create for a more sustainable future.
''This is a monumental moment for snow leopards. It's thrilling to see the brightest minds in the field of conservation team together to preserve this iconic cat, but also do it in a way that holds a positive impact beyond the snow leopard,'' said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) program manager, John Farrington.
WWF works with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to raise awareness at local, national and regional levels across the snow leopard range countries about the need to conserve the species. The project implements climate adaptation, for example by expanding protected areas, diversifying livelihoods, and better management of pastures, water and forests.
"As a development agency, USAID aims to drive sustainable global growth, and its goals as part of that include conserving the world's biodiversity and addressing the impacts of climate change. The conservation of snow leopards and their habitats achieves many benefits that go beyond saving a majestic species, such as conserving mountain ecosystems critical to Asia's water supply and helping local communities adapt to climate change," said USAID's Asia environment team leader, Mary Melnyk.