UN Development Programme and the Government of Kyrgyzstan agree on US$ 1m GEF-financed global project to conserve snow leopards.
The Snow leopard has declined by 20% in the past two decades, leaving only an estimated 4,000-6,500 of this iconic species left in the wild. With an effective breeding population of about 2,500, numerous threats face this irreplaceable cat, ranging from illegal hunting to habitat loss and our rapidly changing climate.
In advance of International Snow Leopard Day on October 23, the GEF has teamed up with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Kyrgyzstan to produce the new publication, “Silent Roar: UNDP and GEF in the Snow Leopard Landscape”.
To further observe Snow Leopard Day, UNDP and the Government of Kyrgyzstan have announced a GEF financed Transboundary Cooperation for Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Conservation project, at a joint event organized with the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme (GSLEP).
The four-year UNDP project, funded with US$ 1 million from the GEF and $US 4.196 million in co-financing, and implemented by the Snow Leopard Trust, will strengthen global transboundary efforts to conserve snow leopards and their high mountain ecosystems. The project will address the key existing and emerging threats snow leopard populations and local communities face with a focus on four Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It will also include pilot work in the Sarychat/Central Tien Shan mountain range that includes two snow leopard landscapes with shared boundaries between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
“The project results will be relevant not only for snow leopard and high-mountain communities in Central Asia, and for the protection of these magnificent species, but also for all 12 snow leopard range countries who have committed to the objectives of the GSLEP programme,” stated Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.
The panelists at the event set forth examples of some of the transformative actions that governments and partners have taken to conserve snow leopards, and their high mountain ecosystems in ways that strengthen livelihoods of the indigenous peoples and local communities, who live in and manage a large part of these landscapes.
“Fifteen years ago, the snow leopard population in our Sarychat - Ertash reserve almost disappeared. But thanks to the efforts of our experts, our photo trap monitoring shows the strong presence now of about 18 to 20 leopards. This is a modest victory that inspires and gives hope that we can achieve more impressive results when we combine our efforts and share experiences and expertise,” stated Abdykalyk Rustamov, Director, State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry, Kyrgyz Republic.
The new publication cites several threats to snow leopards and the women and men who share the same mountain regions, as well as a range of holistic solutions. Some of these threats include: habitat loss and degradation; human-wildlife conflict; lack of transboundary cooperation; poaching and illegal wildlife trade; and climate change.
In a foreword to the book, Gustavo Fonseca, GEF’s Director of Programs, wrote: “GEF has a long history of supporting conservation of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) and its habitat, having approved 24 total projects and invested nearly USD $100 million toward UNDP-implemented projects in all 12 range countries since 1991.This publication highlights nine current GEF-financed, UNDP-implemented projects that have emerged since the Global Forum in 2013, representing an investment of about $45 million to support snow leopard range countries in meeting their national targets toward achieving GSLEP objectives. These nine projects alone have leveraged over $200 million in co-financing from national and international partners.”
John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES stated, "The snow leopard is an iconic species, and CITES— the global legal instrument for regulating international trade in wildlife, provides it with the highest level of protection. CITES is an active member of GSLEP and supports a holistic approach to addressing the threats the species faces. We will remain vigilant and work together with our global partners and CITES Parties in safeguarding this magnificent species."
Promoting snow leopard conservation serves a broader purpose than simply saving one endangered species. Snow leopards act as an indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem in which they live, due to their position as the top (apex) predator in the food web.
Preserving snow leopards throughout their range directly enhances habitat vitality by maintaining balance in the food web. Snow leopards function as a keystone species —although they occur in relatively low abundance, snow leopards play a critical role in regulating the populations of other species, preventing any one species from dominating the habitat. The snow leopard is classified by IUCN as endangered.
Note to the Editors: On 23 October 2013, the Bishkek Declaration was endorsed by the governments of twelve snow leopard range countries, to ensure that snow leopards and the people who live among them thrive in healthy ecosystems that contribute to the prosperity and well-being of the planet. The Bishkek Declaration set a goal of ensuring that there are at least 20 protected snow leopard habitats by 2020, and led to the formation of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). Since then, October 23 is commemorated each year as International Snow Leopard Day. The twelve snow leopard range countries include: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.