The snow leopard has lost its endangered status in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, causing genuine worry among wildlife biologists, who believe this sends out the wrong signal to those working to protect it.
The argument for a downgrade to vulnerable status from endangered is that conservation actions have reduced the threat to the cat.
What is IUCN?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), officially International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
IUCN’s mission is to “influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable”
IUCN has a membership of over 1400 governmental and non-governmental organizations.
IUCN has observer and consultative status at the United Nations, and plays a role in the implementation of several international conventions on nature conservation and biodiversity. It was involved in establishing the World Wide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
THE IUCN RED-LIST
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List), founded in 1964, is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.
The IUCN Red List is set upon precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world.
Major species assessors include BirdLife International, the Institute of Zoology (the research division of the Zoological Society of London), the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and many Specialist Groups within the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). Collectively, assessments by these organizations and groups account for nearly half the species on the Red List.
IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES
Species are classified by the IUCN Red List into nine groups, set through criteria such as rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation.
- Extinct (EX) – No known individuals remaining.
- Extinct in the wild (EW) – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
- Critically endangered (CR) – Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
- Endangered (EN) – High risk of extinction in the wild.
- Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of endangerment in the wild.
- Near threatened (NT) – Likely to become endangered in the near future.
- Least concern (LC) – Lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at-risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.
- Data deficient (DD) – Not enough data to make an assessment of its risk of extinction.
- Not evaluated (NE) – Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria.
WHAT ARE THE CRITERION FOR AN ANIMAL TO BE CATEGORISED ‘ENDANGERED’?
- Reduction in population size based on any of the following.
- Geographic range in the form of either extent of occurrence OR area of occupancy.
- Population estimated to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals.
- Population size estimated to number fewer than 250 mature individuals.
- Quantitative analysis showing the probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20% within 20 years or five generations, whichever is the longer
THE SNOW LEOPARD
The snow leopard is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia.
Potential snow leopard habitat in the Indian Himalayas is estimated at less than 90,000 km2 (35,000 sq mi) in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, of which about 34,000 km2 (13,000 sq mi) is considered good habitat, and 14.4% is protected.
WHAT ARE THE THREATS TO THE SNOW LEOPARD?
- Trafficking in live animals in Central Asia, and hostility from communities because of its attacks on livestock
- Habitat loss due to climate change and global warming-Temperatures are on the rise across the mountains of Central Asia. The Tibetan plateau, home to more than half of the remaining snow leopards, has already gotten 3 degrees warmer in the last 20 years. The changes impact the entire ecosystem: vegetation, water supplies, animals – and they threaten to make up to a third of the snow leopard’s habitat unusable.
- The biggest threat to the snow leopard is the main food- Its main prey species—wild sheep and goat—are also threatened by illegal or unsustainable hunting.
- Wild snow leopards and their prey species share their habitat with domestic livestock
- Mining , hydroelectric projects other large-scale development.
The CONSERVATION EFFORTS SO FAR
- Global Snow Leopard Forum
- Global Snow Leopard and Eco-system Protection Program
- Bishkek Declaration
- As a major range country, India has worked to protect these animals, and even launched a programme on the lines of Project Tiger for its conservation, covering 128,757 sq. km of habitat in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
INDIA AND SNOW LEOPARD CONSERVATION
The national parks where the snow leopard is found:
- Hemis National Park, Jammu and Kashmir
- Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
- Gangotri National Park, Uttarakhand
- Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim
- Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
India handled the problem of the big cat preying on goats, sheep, donkeys and other animals by roping in communities in conservation, and compensating them for any losses.
An insurance programme in which residents of a part of Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh participated also worked well.
New research indicates that even when wild prey is available, the attacks on livestock by snow leopards have cumulatively been on the rise. The response to this finding must be to insulate the owners from losses and encourage them to move away from traditional pastoral grazing
As a major range country, India has worked to protect these animals, and even launched a programme on the lines of Project Tiger for its conservation, covering 128,757 sq. km of habitat in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh
WHY THE DOWNGRADE IS NOT A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
Today, the factors that pose a threat to the species remain unchanged
Climate change is a reality and not so much anywhere else than in the snow belt of Himalayas and trans-himalayas.
Poaching threats are still very much evitable.
If conservation has protected the cat, it must be strengthened by enlarging protected areas in all the range countries, and keeping out incompatible activities such as mining and human interference.