Snow Leopard Day 2016 commemorated in Pakistan.

International Snow Leopard Day was memorialized at Naltar valley, Gilgit-Baltistan Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) commemorated the International Snow Leopard Day at Naltar Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan with schoolchildren and local community on October 23, 2016. The day marks the anniversary of the signing of the landmark Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of this elusive big cat, signed on October 23rd, 2013, at the first Global Forum on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Since then, the 12 snow leopard range countries celebrate October 23 as “Snow Leopard Day” to raise awareness for the plight of an iconic species. The leitmotif of the day was “Promote in situ conservation of snow leopards to keep mountain ecosystems intact”. Walk to raise awareness about snow leopards in the masses and a day long Nature Study Camp to inculcate sense of stewardship for snow leopards in11 the schoolchildren constituted hallmark of the day. Forty students representing Shah Wali Model Academy &  Naunihal Public School Rakaposhi Valley and Government Middle School & Army Public School, Naltar accompanied by their teachers participated in the event. Celebration of Snow Leopard Day began with one and half hour’s walk that ended at the edge of Naltar Bala Valley. The participants of the walk carried banners having slogans on the theme of the day. Mr. Shoukat Ali, Chairman Education Committee, Rakaposhi Valley led the walk as guest of honor. He applauded the efforts of SLF on arranging such a thought provoking event in his brief speech that he delivered to the gathering at the end of the walk. Snow leopards and associated mountain ecosystems are lifeline for the existence of human race and conservation of such valuable resources is our religious and ethical responsibility, he added. He further narrated that most organizations prefer to celebrate these important events in urban areas and thus deprive the people whose dependence directly on natural resources and who actually need know how to manage their natural resources sustainable. Next, the students started hiking to the Snow Leopard Rehabilitation Center developed by SLF and his collaborators at Bishgri, located at an hour trekking from Naltar Bala Valley. The scenic trek passes through dense forest patch surrounded by lofty mountains and streams-one of the potential snow leopard and wild prey habitats in the region. At the onset, the students were provided backpacks, water bottles, notepads, and other required material. Students were divided into groups and SLF scientists briefed the students about norms and code of conduct for the wilderness. Students were also got acquainted with handling emergency situations and first add. During the hike, the students were helped identify plants, birds and other animals encountered.  Students asked questions and took note of the information. On arrival at the Snow Leopard Rehabilitation Center, the students visited the signage and noted the visitor’s rule before having glimpse of the snow leopard (Lolly) which was transferred from Khunjerab to her new home just three weeks ago. All the students were excited to see a live snow leopard but at the same time, most of them felt sorry to see her in captivity. SLF team including Mr. Hussain Ali, Muhammad Wali and Muhammad Younus briefed the students on the habitat, distribution, behavior, threats and role of snow leopard in the ecosystem. SLF scientists also responded to the questions raised by the students. The students were provided posters developed by SLF, carrying themes and messages to discourage capture of snow leopards and promote conservation of snow leopards in the wild. With the conclusion of the lecture sessions, the students put on gloves and started trash collection in the periphery of the Rehabilitation Center. They dug trash dumping pit and disposed the trash off. Having lunch and tea arranged for the participants on the spot, the students were divided in to four groups to draw sketch of snow leopard and its habitat. SLF scientists facilitated the activity. After completion of the drawings, each group shared and presented their sketch with other colleagues. All the drawings were judged by a penal comprising of SLF staff and teachers. The students were provided trophies as a token of appreciation. All the students signed their drawings and pasted on the wall of the Education Center developed inside the Rehabilitation Center. This ended the day long Nature Study Camp and students boarded in vehicles and started journey back to their homes with unforgettable memories and valuable kno13wledge gained through this event. Muhammad Saqlain, student of Naunihal Public School opining on the event said “This adventurous event has enhanced our understanding of wildlife especially of snow leopard and I will share the knowledge gained with my colleagues and family”. Similarly, Saif ur Rahman, student of Army Public School said “I and my fellow students are thankful to SLF for providing us opportunity to explore nature and learn about endangered species in remote area like Naltar”. Snow leopards are part and parcel of Pakistan’s unique mountain ecology and heritage. As Schaller after his first encounter with snow leopard in Pakistan in early 1970s said “ The mountains will retain their beauty without animals, but when the last snow leopard has disappeared from the crags, a spark of life have gone too, turning the peaks into stones of silence”. Conservation cannot be effective without public support and we need to take local people, especially the students on board to foster conservation of snow leopards in Pakistan, says Jaffar Ud Din, Assistant Director, Pakistan Program. We thank all the people and organizations for their valuable support and helping us organize such important events from time to time, he added. Dr. Muhammad Ali Nawaz, the winner of Whitely Award, says Snow leopard symbolizes integrity of mountain ecosystem, thus survival of cat is clearly linked to prosperity of millions of people directly or indirectly dependent on this habitat.  Educating and engaging youth in conservation is central to ensure peaceful co-existence of human and cat in the long-term future, and the current event is an important step in this direction.”   305_8