This Expedition is About More Than the Snow Leopard….
The third pole is rapidly melting due to climate change, and with it goes the home of the Snow Leopard as well as the water security for 2 billion people in Asia. Protecting the home of the Snow Leopard from degradation and securing its habitat from the impact of climate change is critical…for both wildlife and mankind. The collaring of snow leopards in this region is also part of a larger initiative for WWF to bring the governments of China, Nepal and India together to address the impacts of climate change.
This expedition will place state-of-the art collars on these magnificent cats to give them a chance to have their story of survival in a warming and more crowded world told to the public and to decision makers. After capturing, collaring, and releasing the snow leopards, WWF and you will remotely follow their movements, and chart their habitat needs over the next year. This information will allow the governments of Nepal, China, and India – with WWF’s support – to form a tri-national conservation area in one of the regions of the Himalaya capable of withstanding the worst effects of climate change and provide critical refuge to the Snow Leopard and a host of other species into the next century.
As the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalaya has long been revered for its fierce peaks and stunning beauty. Adventure-seekers the world over arrive each year to explore the beauty and challenges of this great range. While these mountains appear to be symbols of strength and solidity, the truth is that the Himalaya is changing—and quickly. The economic rise of India and China and their natural resource needs have rendered the pristine valleys, grasslands and rivers of the Himalaya remote no more. The pace of road and dam building is increasing at rates never seen before. Today the most existential threat to the great peaks, and rivers and forests and animals species below, is climate change. Emergence of new roads and developments continues to bring this once largely remote and pristine region closer and closer every year. And rising regional temperatures are melting the Himalayan snowcaps at a rate faster than ever recorded.
Its protection is of utmost importance. The Himalayan Mountains and surrounding grasslands are home to a number of rare and iconic species, including Asian elephants, snow leopards, tigers, and greater one-horned rhinos. Moreover, the Himalaya provides vital ecological services—including fresh water—that support billions of people in the region and beyond. The degradation of this ecosystem will bring major consequences for both wildlife and humans.
THE SNOW LEOPARD
One of WWF’s priorities in the Himalaya is to protect snow leopards. In centuries past, these wild predators were found in abundance from the Pamir and Kunlun mountains of Central Asia across the Tibetan plateau to the Karakoram-Himalaya. Their astonishing physical adaptation to high altitudes, cold temperatures, and vertical cliff sides rendered them supreme in high Asia.
But today, a host of human-induced threats are pushing snow leopards toward extinction. They fall victim to local residents—who kill them in retribution for attacking their livestock—and poachers, who hunt them for their stunning coats and the curative powers falsely believed to be in their bones. The encroachment of new roads into high mountain habitat is taking its toll as well. Yet the most severe threat of all is climate change. The snow leopard is a niche species that has evolved to thrive in a harsh mountain environment. If this habitat disappears, so too will this distinctive animal.
WWF today is involved in complex mapping and modeling of the changes that will occur as the Himalaya warms. This is helping us pinpoint those landscapes where the snow leopard will have the best chance of survival so that we can act quickly and strategically to save these cats before it’s too late.
One of the high mountain regions that appears most resilient to climate change is northeast Nepal’s Mt. Kangchenjunga. Standing at over 26,000 feet, Kangchenjunga is the third highest peak in the world. It sits at the junction of Nepal, Tibet and the Indian state of Sikkim and is home to one of the highest densities of snow leopards in the world. Its complex mountain geography is a deterrent to new roads, and its sparse human population minimizes human-wildlife conflict. WWF has been working with communities in northeast Nepal for more than a decade to protect this stunning region. This includes training residents as wardens of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area – a community-managed protected area that was handed over to local control in 2006.
THE CONSERVATION GOAL
WWF believes the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area will soon become one of the last great refuges for the snow leopard. Because of this, we need to redouble our conservation efforts here. This necessitates collecting scientific data to inform our work. One of the most fundamental unknowns we must answer is the range of snow leopards in this area.
By placing radio collars on four snow leopards, WWF will gain critical information to guide our work with the governments of Tibet/China, India and Nepal on trans-frontier snow leopard conservation. WWF plans to use state-of-the-art radio collars that emit near real-time data points every 10 minutes. Over time, we will have maps that reveal exactly where these solitary cats wander. We will know how much time the animals spend in each country, and we will use this data to work with each government to improve protection. A Tripartite Snow Leopard Peace Park, managed between India, Nepal and China, is our ultimate goal.
SCALING UP: SAVING SNOW LEOPARDS TO SAVE OURSELVES
If climate change continues on its present trajectory, snow leopards will be just one of many casualties. WWF sees an urgent opportunity to incite preventative action before we run out of time. The spring 2013 expedition will be a critical precursor to a larger, high-profile expedition in 2014 to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya. Using the maps generated by the newly installed radio collars, the 2014 expedition will bring together celebrity mountaineers and scientists from the U.S., Nepal and China and engage major media outlets. WWF will use this prominent expedition as a rallying cry for protecting snow leopards, both for the sake of these rare wild animals and for the future of our own species in the face of a changing climate.
• Snow Leopard by Peter Matteisen
• Kanchenjunga the Untrodden Peak by Charles Evans.
• The Hard Years by Joe Brown
• The Kanchenjunga Adventure by Frank Smythe
• Round Kanchenjunga by Douglas Freshfield
• Living on the Edge: The Winter Ascent of Kanchenjunga by Cherie Bremer-Kamp
• Kanchenjunga; First Ascent from the North-East Spur by Col Narinder Kumar
• Kangchenjunga Himal and Kumbhakana by Jan Kielkowski