ISLAMABAD:The Pakistan Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Programme (PSLEP) aimed at preserving the endangered wild cat facing habitat destruction has engaged students and women of the local community to protect depleting living natural space and generate alternate income opportunities for the masses.
PSLEP National Project Manager, Jaffar Ud Din told REPORTER that the human and wildlife conflict has increased between the resident of Northern Areas and Snow Leopard, the vulnerable big cat inhabiting in the snow clad mountains of trans-boundary region of the Himalayas sprawling over Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
He added that the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) under the supervision of the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) had initiated a five-year project since 2018 to address the issue.
He said, “Snow Leopard is a vulnerable species at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered species that have the risk to become extinct in the future.”
He said rapid glacial melting had increased grazing area in the Northern region that resulted human intrusion into Snow Leopard’s habitat and as a consequence attacks on livestock of local farmers had mounted the conflict.
Jaffar mentioned that loss of prey in its natural environment of snowy mountains had also forced the Snow Leopard to descend to human population for its prey.
He said to engage children in the conservation measures Nature Clubs were established in schools to make children aware of the vulnerable species of Snow Leopard and own the big cat as their community symbol and not a threat.
He said there were also skill development programmes initiated under PSLEP to provide alternate livelihood sources to local communities other than livestock farming which was their only source of income.
“The project gives due consideration to gender parity in the initiative as both males and females are being trained under the skill development project. The women are particularly trained to produce local artifacts and cultural goods with a modern blend to earn a good amount of income and foreign exchange.”
SLF, he said, under the PSLEP project had introduced multiple interventions from capacity building of local farmers, awareness and education pertaining to Snow Leopard’s vulnerability, vaccination of livestock, livestock insurance, modern enclosures to avoid the big cat’s attacks on livestock in human settlements.
He added that major intervention implemented was of Eco-Tourism Conservation sites aiming to promote Conservation to prevent damage to the habitat of Snow Leopards.
Under this initiative, the first site developed and made operational was at Hoper, Nagar district of Gilgit Baltistan which was promoting sustainable tourism through trekking, camping sites that would discourage unbridled development of hotels and restaurants in such vulnerable locations, the National Project Manager.
“Under the Eco-Tourism Conservation sites we are encouraging tourists to contribute in preserving environment and community development by planting a tree or any assistance complying with their skills and availability like doctors to provide medical guidance to local people, engineer may help improve infrastructure and etc.”
He added that training of wildlife and livestock guards was also the part of PSLEP whereas post graduate students were also its part to assist research and survey under the project.