“This day gives us the opportunity to renew Pakistan’s commitment for nature conservation and to raise awareness of the importance of the iconic wildlife species,” this was stated by Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan in the International Wildlife Day 2018 message.
He stressed the need for increasing acceptance for wildlife by conversation which also helps generations to benefit from the ecosystem created by wildlife.
The theme of the day for this year was ‘big cats: predators under threat’.
“Big cats including snow leopard, lion, tiger, common leopard, jaguar, puma and cheetah being top predators play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystem. However, their population is on the decline due to the loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade,” minister added.
World Wildlife Pakistan marked this day by announcing the commencement of two new initiatives to conserve the critically endangered big cats, snow leopard ‘Panthera uncia’, and common leopard ‘Panthera pardus’ to follow the theme of this year.
WWF-Pakistan has been working on the conservation of these elusive big cats for over three decades by addressing key challenges to their survival particularly human-leopard conflict and habitat degradation. Both species are threatened by habitat degradation, poaching, and conflict with communities.
“The WWF-Pakistan is taking concentrated efforts for conservation of snow and common leopard with other endangered species like Indus river dolphin. Anthropogenic activities along with use of non-renewable natural resources have increased tremendously, which resulting the disturbance of ecosystem”, said by Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan.
Under the first initiative, WWF-Pakistan with support of WWF International and in collaboration with the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife and Forest Department by piloting Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), a technology-based framework to control wildlife poaching and illegal trade of snow leopard in Misgar Valley of Hunza district, Gilgit-Baltistan. With the introduction of this initiative, Pakistan becomes the first country to pilot the technology-based zero-poaching framework.
The second initiative focuses on assessment of existing field challenges and the availability of sufficient resources to officials of wildlife departments who work tirelessly to protect endangered and iconic wildlife species and their habitats. The assessment will be conducted in selected protected areas of Pakistan including those falling within the snow leopard landscapes.
The common leopards in Pakistan are mainly found in the highlands of Baluchistan and Sindh, and the mountain forests of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu & Kashmir. It is concentrated in the moist temperate forest and important areas of the distribution are from Margalla Hills National Park, Murree Reserve Forest, Ayubia National Park (KP) and adjoining forest of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir and there are also occasional reports from desert areas of Punjab which largely show a vagrant animal.
The Snow Leopard is found in the high mountains of the Karakoram and the Hindukush. It is listed as endangered according to IUCN Red list of mammals. C.I.T.E.S. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Over 81’000 sq km area in Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountain ranges of Himalayas is potential habitat of the snow leopard, with an approximate population of 400-450 animals.
The conservation of big cats, various actions had been taken by the government. The human-wildlife conflict, snow leopard and common leopard depredation on livestock and retaliatory killing were the main threat to big cats in Pakistan.
There are few reports of common leopard attacks on human life which make the situation worse and negative perception prevails about wildlife in conflict areas. The species are protected under wildlife laws and a system of protected areas has been established which provide safe habitat to these species besides various conservation activities.
WWF Living Planet Report revealed that from 1970 to 2012 about 58 percent of all vertebrates have been extinct as a result of human food needs and activities. If this trend prevails by 2020, the planet will loss two-thirds of all wildlife species.