GENEVA – A major global conservation group urged on Wednesday countries gathering for an upcoming international summit on the snow leopard to bolster previous commitments to preserve the species from extinction.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (also known as the World Wildlife Fund) said in a statement that the 12 countries – including “political powerhouses” such as Russia, China and India – that are to take part in the International Snow Leopard Summit and Ecosystem Forum in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, should increase their efforts in tackling major threats to the endangered predator.
“We now reach a critical check point. Efforts must be increased or the goal will not be achieved, with snow leopards and local communities feeling the consequences,” said the WWF International Director General, Marco Lambertini.
The 12 nations with the status of “snow leopard range countries” met for the first time in Bishkek to tackle the issue in October 2013; in that summit, they committed to securing 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020.
“This has brought the plight of this iconic species into the spotlight and created hope that this commitment from the range country governments could set an example of conservation success worldwide,” the statement said in praise of the 2013 summit, which produced the Bishkek Declaration on the Conservation of Snow Leopards with the goal of “protecting and recovering snow leopard populations and their fragile habitats for all people to enjoy.”
“However, as we pass the half-way point, there remain as few as 4,000 snow leopards and its habitat, which is home to the headwaters of 20 major rivers in Asia and known as the ‘world’s water towers,’ continues to shrink,” WWF added.
According to the organization, recent research suggests that climate change could wipe out more than two-thirds of snow leopard habitats in the next 50 years, which, coupled with infrastructure projects, “will push the species even closer to the brink of survival.”
Humans play a critical role in the snow leopard’s future: WWF noted that a recent report estimated that up to 450 specimens of the graceful feline are poached every year.
In many cases, the loss of wild prey and shrinking habitats lead to conflicts between the leopards and humans, as the former are forced to feed on the latter’s livestock, prompting retaliation that often involves poisoning the guiltless carnivores.
WWF, along with the Snow Leopard Trust and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) – a German conservation group –, launched a joint petition calling for more protection for snow leopards that has to date garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
The Switzerland-based NGO also included some of its own suggestions for governments, such as strengthening their capacity to prevent the poaching of snow leopards and investing in greater snow leopard research and monitoring.
In addition, WWF asked range countries to prioritize an integrated landscape planning approach that explicitly assesses climate change impacts and to promote research into sustainable infrastructure that “does not proceed at the expense of snow leopards and its habitats.”
The snow leopard range countries are Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The Bishkek summit is set to take place between Aug. 23-25.