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3rdPakistan is lucky to be home to approximately 300 snow leopards – a globally endangered species and listed in the IUCN Red Book as such.

There are thought to be only 7,000 to 10,000 of these magnificent high-altitude animals remaining in the world and those indigenous to North Pakistan were, until relatively recently, hunted down by trophy seekers and local people who blamed, often wrongly, these creatures for any loss of livestock even if they died as a result of illness or malnourishment.

Predominantly indigenous to Gilgit-Baltistan and the Karakorum and Tian Shan mountain ranges in China, with a small number still managing to survive in Afghanistan, these snow leopards are now looked after and scientifically monitored by a number of international and national NGOs such as the Snow Leopard Foundation.

Highly prized by generations of hunters for their beautiful pelts and by poachers involved in the illegal business of selling snow leopard body parts for use in a variety of ‘traditional’ Chinese and Asian medicines, these big cats have obtained global attention and the battle to save them from extinction is raging in full force. Protecting them in Pakistan is no easy matter and would be impossible without the full cooperation of local communities in the mountainous regions where the animals live.

Members of the Snow Leopard Foundation, working within the Central Karakorum National Park and adjoining areas (which have the highest concentration of snow leopards found in Pakistan) have convinced local communities to save rather than persecute snow leopards.

Assisted by Save Our Species – an international NGO – 10 communities in five valleys within the prime snow leopard habitat are now involved in essential conservation work to protect these spectacular animals. A number of other NGOs, such as WWF-P, are also involved in snow leopard conservation projects across Northern Pakistan where, it is hoped, this endangered species will be well and truly saved.

– B Khan

First published in the ADBUZZZZ Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on August 10, 2014.