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Can Saving Snow Leopards Quench People's Thirst?*

*In other words: Where in the high mountains of central Asia can we simultaneously maximize conservation of snow leopard habitat and secure water for human use downstream, now and under future climate conditions?

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An estimated 300 million people live in close proximity to rivers that receive part of the water from the snow leopard range, including significant populations in the Indus, Amu Darya, and Syr Darya river basins.

To figure this out, WWF scientists use GIS mapping software to overlay snow leopard range data with spatial information on watershed, rivers, water flow, elevation and human population.

We identified areas of snow leopard habitat that contribute a disproportionately large amount of runoff to rivers that in turn provide water to large downstream human populations. Why? Because some water management strategies can have positive implications for both water supply and snow leopards—strategies like limiting changes in land use; confining mining in key areas in ways that protect habitat and reduce pollution; and carefully planning water diversions (for drinking water, agriculture, and development) and flood control programs to minimize habitat disturbance.

Next up? Analyzing the areas where snow leopards and water supplies overlap, in the context of climate vulnerability and in terms of water provision and flood control needs. Our goal is to determine which areas are the most important for snow leopards and people, as well as which are most likely to remain viable as climate change alters the landscape. 

Learn more about snow leopards.

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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