Asia’s high mountains and the ice and snow-covered landscapes that form the headwaters of Asia’s most economically and culturally important rivers are home to the iconic and endangered snow leopard. These landscapes are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts that could affect millions of people living downstream. The Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities (AHM) Project, funded by USAID, has galvanized greater understanding and action at local, national and regional levels to conserve the snow leopard and promote human resilience. The project connects conservation to environmental, economic and social issues affecting Asia’s development, namely local livelihoods, water and food security, and climate change adaptation.
In Bhutan, India, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan, the project takes an integrated, climate-smart approach to snow leopard conservation using site-specific, climate adaptation activities. This approach is informed by socioeconomic surveys and climate vulnerability assessments and includes snow leopard research and protection, livelihood diversification, improved water management and food production ─ all with full community participation.
In Bhutan, a model climate-smart village in eastern Wangchuck Centennial National Park is playing a leading role in piloting a suite of activities for mountain farming communities, including springshed protection for village water sources, use of biogas as an alternative to firewood, improved water storage and delivery systems and greenhouse farming of alternative crops.
In the Kangchenjunga region of eastern Nepal, climate change adaptation demonstrations include improving farming practices to diversify crops and increase incomes, introducing efficient sprinkler irrigation systems, improving pasture rotation rates and repairing trails and bridges to increase access to no longer used alpine pastures.
These activities are helping mountain communities in the snow leopard range coexist with the big cats, improve economic prosperity and continue their stewardship of the local environment.
Another key element of the project is facilitating international collaboration on snow leopard conservation, water resource management and wildlife crime. In October 2013, the 12 snow leopard range nations signed the landmark Bishkek Declaration on international cooperation to protect the endangered snow leopard across its range, creating the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) to secure 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020.
The AHM Project supports this goal by helping develop climate-smart snow leopard landscape management plans through collaboration between government partners, local stakeholders and the World Wildlife Fund. AHM Project research informed development of the first model landscape management plan in Eastern Nepal based on distribution of snow leopards and their habitat, climate change impacts, and water management findings. Climate change has direct impacts on snow leopards, and it is also a factor that exacerbates existing threats like over-grazing, poaching, and retaliatory killing. The plan takes into account future climate scenarios and maps refuges where these “ghosts of the mountains” can thrive even in the face of climate impacts.
The process for preparing the plan for Eastern Nepal, completed and presented at the GSLEP summit in August 2017, will serve as a model for replication for other GSLEP member states, such as a second climate-smart landscape management plan for the Kyrgyz Republic’s Central Tian Shan Mountains. These efforts are improving transnational collaboration on conservation to ensure a future for snow leopards.
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.