Asia's high mountains form the headwaters of river systems that provide fresh water for millions of people. The region contains the largest store of permanent ice and permafrost outside the poles, the world’s highest peaks, incredible variety of ethnic communities, and stunning biodiversity.
With funding from USAID, WWF works in landscapes across this region to promote conservation of snow leopards, improved water security, and adaptation to climate change among high mountain communities.
Here’s a look at some common questions and answers about this important area that WWF helps protect:
1. What countries form the Asia high mountain region?
Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are all part of the Asia high mountains.
2. Why are the Asia high mountains important?
The high mountains of Central Asia provide fresh water for millions of people, which is important for food, water, and energy downstream. Its towering peaks are home to the endangered snow leopard, ancient cultures, and landscapes that are transforming quickly due to climate change. By conserving high-altitude ecosystems and improving the livelihoods of communities on the edge of the snow leopard range, we can better protect biodiversity and natural resources, even in the face of a changing climate.
3. What mountain ranges do the Asia high mountains span?
The Asia high mountains span the Altai, Tien Shan, Kunlun, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakorum, and Himalayas ranges. These mountains harbor an amazing diversity of life. The Eastern Himalayas alone contain some 10,000 species of plant, 900 species of bird, and 300 species of mammal—many of which are found nowhere else on the planet.
4. Why are mountains important for fresh water?
Mountains capture water from the atmosphere and store it as snow and ice, which melt to supply streams and rivers throughout the year. Half the world’s population depends on mountains for drinking water or hydroelectric power.
5. What effect is climate change having on the Asia high mountains?
Glaciers are melting, snow cover and permafrost are disappearing, and water availability is changing—putting local and downstream communities and ecosystems at risk. Much of the region is highly dependent on seasonal rainfall and glacial runoff, and many communities lack the resources to respond to the effects of a rapidly shifting climate. WWF focuses on capacity building, climate change vulnerability assessments, and transnational collaboration on climate change adaptation, and snow leopard conservation in this region.
6. What species live in the Asia high mountains?
Species like red pandas, Bengal tigers, blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, and ibex are found in Asia high mountains. The most iconic species of these mountains is the snow leopard, known as the “Ghosts of the Mountain” because of their solitary and elusive nature.
7. Why do snow leopards matter?
Snow leopards play a key role as both top predator and as an indicator of the health of their high-altitude habitat. If snow leopards thrive, so will countless other species, as well as the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on the rivers flowing down from Asia’s high mountains. There are believed to be fewer than 7,000 snow leopards in the wild today, and climate change is expected to impact nearly 30 percent of snow leopard habitat.
8. How are communities getting involved?
WWF works to raise awareness of these issues and encourage local participation through activities like school programs, door-to-door education campaigning, creative events like snow leopard festivals, community-based biodiversity monitoring, and anti-poaching patrols. We also help integrate biodiversity conservation into livelihood activities.
9. What does WWF hope to achieve through the Asia high mountains project?
By both working in Asia’s high mountain communities, where many impacts of climate change are already being felt, and influencing policy, which governs natural resource management, we hope to safeguard a future where both people and biodiversity can thrive.