Toggle Nav

Guardians of the Headwaters: Snow Leopards, Water Provision, and Climate Vulnerability.

A new series of maps and analysis from WWF, funded by USAID, explores the links between climate change, snow leopard habitat, and water provision across the major mountain ranges and river basins of the Snow leopard range across Central Asia. The map book provides new insight into the downstream water provision benefits provided to human populations by the high altitude areas of the Snow leopard range, and how they are threatened by increasing temperatures and other climate change. Covering 12 countries, the range forms the headwaters of 20 major river basins which flow to 22 countries.

Major findings of these maps and analyses conclude:

  • Headwaters of the western basins, including the Indus, Amu Darya, and Syr Darya, are the most important for downstream water provision while also providing core and connecting habitat for snow leopards
  • Snow leopard habitat appears most vulnerable to climate change in the eastern and northern reaches of its range
  • Potential Snow leopard-human conflict may increase in the future in the western reaches of the range with improving crop suitability

The impacts of climate change on permafrost, which provides an important stabilizing force for both water provision and snow leopard habitat, are highly uncertain

For management interventions to address shifting snow leopard habitat and impacts on water provision, the report recommends the following:

  • Improved land management, focused on reducing land conversion and degradation due to overgrazing, can improve water security by maintaining natural flood control mechanisms, and slowing the melting?of permafrost
  • Transboundary water management that considers an entire river from headwaters to delta is important in maintaining water security.
  • For snow leopards, maintaining intact habitat in important areas can build resiliency into long-term snow leopard conservation strategies.