Climate Change Threatens Snow Leopards

The WWF have released a new report looking at the impact climate change could have on the Himalayas and its inhabitants including the majestic snow leopard. The organisation are warning that after decades of dwindling numbers due to anthropogenic threats, rising temperatures in the region may cause the “ghost of the mountains” to become a mere ghost of the memory.

Current population numbers may be as low as 4,000 due to a host of threats which have decimated populations. Conflict with communities who share the mountainous region has helped create a 20% population drop in 16 years as locals believe the snow leopards pose a threat to livestock and human life. Poaching, habitat loss and a lack of prey have also all played their role in this deterioration of numbers.

Climate change will ultimately lead to warmer temperatures in the region which would squeeze the snow leopards habitat into an even smaller area. The warmer temperatures are expected to cause the tree line to shift higher up the mountains which in turn will see the local farmers planting crops and grazing livestock at higher altitudes. Not only will this cause smaller ranges for the snow leopards but it will increase the chances of them coming into contact with humans; a big problem when conflict with humans is a huge reason for their decline in numbers.

Rishi Kumar Sharma, WWF global snow leopard leader, said: “Reversing the downward trend in snow leopard numbers and conserving their fragile habitat require conservation efforts on an unparalleled scale. It will be difficult to achieve but the momentum and political will exists: governments must now translate this into action by swiftly scaling up their efforts to save the ghost of the mountains.”

The WWF have released never before seen images of snow leopards to highlight their plight. Image by WWF-Mongolia

The WWF have released never before seen images of snow leopards to highlight their plight. Image by WWF-Mongolia

The WWF are keen to emphasise that it is not only the snow leopard that stands to lose out with the onset of climate change in the region. Rebecca May, WWF-UK’s snow leopard programme lead, states: “The Himalayas region will face a major crisis if we choose to ignore climate change. Not only do we risk losing majestic species such as the snow leopard, but hundreds of millions of people who rely on water flowing from these mountains may be affected.”

Approximately 330 million people inhabit the area around the rivers that start in snow leopard territory, and depend upon those rivers for water supplies and their livelihoods. However an increase in temperatures could see the flow of water from these rivers drastically changed which would threaten the livelihoods of people across the continent.

This information is being released ahead of the upcoming UN climate change conference in Paris in December, which is billed as the last chance to take meaningful action against the threat of a emissions and a warming planet. Thus the WWF is joining a number of organisations campaigning for a strong and effective deal at the conference which not only will serve to protect species such as the snow leopard but also the human inhabitants of areas such as the Himalayas.

Feature Image by David Lawson/WWF-UK

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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