Chinese researcher calling for joint protection of snow leopards in Pakistan
SHIJIAZHUANG, Nov. 23 (China Economic Net)-“The border between China and Pakistan is an important habitat for snow leopards. The two countries need to work together to protect this area for sustained biodiversity”, said Professor Li Dongming from Hebei Normal University in an exclusive interview with China Economic Net (CEN).
Recently, his team, with three Pakistani researchers involved, published an e-Letter article titled “Snow Leopards at High Risk in Pakistan” on Science.
Commenting the article “The snow leopard's questionable comeback” published in 2018, the e-Letter analysed the root causes of human-snow leopard conflict and proposed the measures to protect this precious species.
Snow leopards, also known as the “ghost of the mountains”, are the flagship species of the Himalayan alpine landscape. Globally speaking, there are about 8000 snow leopards still surviving by estimation. Among them, about 400 reside in Pakistan, especially the Khunjerab National Park and surrounding alpine areas.
“As an advanced predator, the large feline animal is important in the food chain because they play a positive role in maintaining stable populations of its prey, such as the herbivore ibex”, Professor Li introduced.
“We started our research on Pakistani snow leopards in 2020, when Dr. Shahid Ahmad joined our center for post-doctoral studies on ecology. With a Ph.D. degree from Beijing Forestry University, he has long been studying the conservation biology of snow leopards and wild goats in Pakistan”, Professor Li told CEN.
Ghulam Nabi, a Pakistani teacher at the university, and Tauheed Ullah Khan from Kohat University also commit themselves to the research.
According to their study, four factors aggravate the human-snow leopard conflict in Pakistan. First of all, the current trophy hunting policy has reduced the availability of prey, which in turn causes snow leopards to attack more livestock, stirring poaching and revenge killings. Secondly, low public awareness of animal conservation is omni present.Even some government officials, influential people and residents are involved in snow leopard hunting. Thirdly, as some organs and tissues of snow leopards are important sources of medicine, poaching occurs frequently, which is exacerbated by illegal wildlife trade with other countries. Fourthly, the habitat for snow leopards is shrinking as a result of deforestation, habitat fragmentation and climate change, posing indirect threats to their survival.
The e-Letter points out that to reinforce the protection of the species, poisonous hunting should be eradicated effectively. Moreover, such measures as penalties and ecological compensation should be implemented promptly to prevent poaching. The public should also be educated about biodiversity conservation.
China’s snow leopards population accounts for 40-50% of the global total, but they are mainly found in sparsely populated areas such as the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau and Pamirs. In addition, as protective measures are intensifying and people’s awareness is enhancing, the human-snow leopard conflict is rare.
Talking about the balance between the protection and utilisation of wildlife, Professor Li said, “the protection and utilisation of wildlife seem to contradict each other, but in fact they are not. Biodiversity is the foundation of human existence. Only by protecting rare and endangered species and their habitats, can the future generations enjoy the potential benefit of biodiversity”. Just as has been expressed on COP 15, protecting biodiversity helps protect Earth, our common homeland, and contributes to humanity's sustainable development.
“In collaboration, we can assess the impact of the ‘Belt and Road’ on the habitat of rare and endangered animals such as snow leopards. In the construction process, we can build biological corridors connecting different fragmented habitats for some wildlife”, said Professor Li.