In October 2012, WWF began a four-year project to conserve snow leopard habitat, promote water security, and help communities prepare for climate change impacts in Central Asia.
The USAID-funded, $4.7-million Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities project will conduct field activities in and build alliances among six of the snow leopard’s 12 range countries: Bhutan, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. The project will run through September 30, 2016.
The high mountains of Central Asia provide freshwater for one-third of the world’s population, and habitat for the iconic and endangered snow leopard. However, climate change means rapid glacial melt and changing water availability. This results in pressure on endemic species, local and downstream communities, and agricultural productivity.
In the face of a changing climate, this project aims to improve high mountain landscape management, both technical and policy-focused. It will help communities address vulnerabilities to climate change, conserve snow leopards as the flagship species of Asia’s high mountain landscapes, and advance a vision for water security and sustainable mountain development across the snow leopard range states.
The project seeks to generate awareness and build capacity at local, national, and regional levels for conservation of snow leopards. This involves connecting and integrating snow leopard conservation with local livelihoods, water and food security, and climate change adaptation. The project builds upon several key efforts supported by WWF in the region. Specific objectives include:
1) Climate-smart landscape management
The project will assess climate vulnerability across the high mountain landscapes of Asia to identify regional threats and opportunities for addressing climate adaptation and water resource needs. Through site-specific efforts across six nations, the project will promote snow leopard conservation and its integration into climate-smart sustainable development. Activities will focus on building local governance, public understanding, and incentives for adaptation to climate change with a strong emphasis on water security.
2) Improve transnational collaboration
The project will scale up community-based snow leopard conservation and promote transboundary cooperation and agreements among participating countries. By increasing the availability of data, sharing lessons across the range, and supporting climate-smart conservation efforts, the project will strengthen existing linkages and form new channels for cooperation among several existing regional networks.
Project activities will focus on capacity building, climate change vulnerability assessments, and transnational collaboration on climate change adaptation and snow leopard conservation.
The project team is partnering with local organizations to train community members to monitor and survey snow leopard populations, and perform anti-poaching initiatives. Community members will form Snow Leopard Conservation Committees, which will coordinate efforts to survey particular local areas.
Staff from WWF will conduct a large-scale vulnerability assessment in the six project countries. The assessment will guide project implementation by analyzing the impacts of climate change on glaciers, the associated impacts on local and downstream communities, and progress on climate change adaptation.
The project partners, including WWF, the Snow Leopard Trust, and the Snow Leopard Network, and country governments will convene four major workshops during the project period. These meetings will put the conservation of snow leopard habitat into the context of climate change, including impacts on local communities, glaciers, and water. This collaboration will contribute to the formation of a regional alliance to conserve Asia’s high mountain landscapes.
The work plan was approved by USAID at the end of 2012, and the project team is now engaging local communities, civil society, and governments to raise awareness and galvanize support for this project.