Elusive Snow Leopard Caught On Camera In Northern Pakistan

Pakistani researchers take rare photos of the endangered snow leopard on the icy Hisper glacier in Central Karakoram National Park. The Glacier Hisper glacier, in Pakistan’s Central Karakoram National Park, is part of one of the world’s largest glacier systems. Hisper valley and adjacent Hoper valley have long been considered to be good potential snow leopard habitat – but the cat’s presence had never been scientifically confirmed. Now, a research team led by Hussain Ali has caught at least four snow leopards on camera. “We knew that the Hoper and Hisper valleys had tremendous potential for wildlife, and that the rugged terrain offered an ideal habitat for snow leopards”, says Hussain Ali, who led the study. “We’ve also had lots of reports from the local communities about livestock predation in the past, so we wanted to get a better sense of the snow leopard population in the area.” This past winter, Hussain Ali and his team installed a total of 38 remote-sensor cameras along the watershed and in the two main valleys – a difficult and strenuous exercise in very tough conditions. “We’ve had some pretty bad weather at times, with heavy snowfall; and there’s always a risk of rock fall or avalanches”, recalls Ejaz ur Rehman, one of the senior members of the research team.” After two months, they had to brace the elements once again as they went back to Hisper glacier to recover the cameras. The results were clearly worth the hard work.  “We had snow leopard pictures on 10 of our cameras, and were able to identify four individuals – the first photo evidence of the cat’s presence in Central Karakoram National Park”, Hussain says. The team also found red fox, stone marten, weasels, pikas and cape hares. Improving Attitudes In 2012, the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan (SLF) had conducted surveys in the area on human-carnivore conflicts. While predation was identified as a problem, the community reported even more livestock losses due to diseases. As a reaction, SLF started a vaccination program in the area, which has helped reduce livestock mortality considerably. The intervention also resulted in improved attitudes toward the snow leopard. “Six or seven years ago, there would often be dead birds, fox, or other scavengers around livestock that had fallen prey to snow leopards or wolves, because community members had poisoned the carcasses to kill the predators. Now, that no longer happens”, Hussain Ali says. This change in attitudes is a very encouraging sign for SLF’s conservation endeavors in Northern Pakistan. The new research camera photos will not only help the team better understand the behavior and needs of snow leopards and their prey species. “These photos will help foster a sense of stewardship for local wildlife among the community”, says Jaffar Ud Din, Assistant Director of SLF and Head of the Gilgit-Baltistan Program office. “We will further extend our conservation and education programs in neighboring Hoper valley to ensure peaceful coexistence of wildlife and local people across the larger landscape with the march of time”, he adds. The Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife department is also doing its best to conserve wildlife in the two valleys despite limited resources. They are highly appreciative of the work SLF is doing in the area: “The camera traps are not only vital to assess the status of elusive species but also serve to strengthen wildlife surveillance in the valleys during the deployment period, says Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, Conservator of the GB Parks and Wildlife Department. __________________ The SLF team thanks the Sabin Snow Leopard Grants Program, the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department, and the local communities of Hoper and Hisper valleys for their tremendous support. The Research Team Camps Setting up Camera TrapSL-3SL-2DSCN0155DSCN9824