Wildlife & Landscapes

Protecting Snow Leopards in Central Asia

Snow leopard basking in the sun. Creative Commons: 2012.

In partnership with The Christensen Fund, LDF is helping to support and expand a 10-year project in Central Asia dedicated to working with a wide array of local community organizations to protect snow leopards from extinction. This ongoing effort is focused on backing the revitalization of cultural and spiritual relationships with landscapes and local stewardship of biological and cultural diversity.

Snow leopards rely on increasingly threatened fragile high mountain ecosystems in 12 Central Asian countries for their survival. Having been driven out of at least 15% of their historic range, their numbers have plummeted by an estimated 20% in just two decades and they are currently considered endangered. Despite being listed as endangered since 1972 and legally protected, snow leopards remain on IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species. As few as 4,000-7,000 animals remain in the two million square kilometers of habitat in the high mountain ranges of Central Asia.

Snow leopards are in decline because of habitat destruction and degradation, declines in prey abundance, poaching, and conflicts with humans. Additionally, large-scale infrastructure development and climate change are degrading their wild habitat.

Snow leopards are keystone species. Protecting them and their habitats will result in a cascade of benefits to the rich diversity of plant and animal species that also call these landscapes home. In addition to their ecological value, snow leopards hold tremendous cultural value, serving as vital strands in the spiritual and cultural fabric of the indigenous people of the region. Snow leopard extinction, and the associated devastation of their remarkable high mountain ecosystems, would push ancient cultures to the brink of extinction as well.

The projects identified for the collaboration with TCF work by supporting and mobilizing key strategic communities and indigenous cultural practitioners to address the myriad of threats to snow leopard survival and long-term viability. The specific goals are:

  • To support the international snow leopard conservation goal of “20 by 2020” by helping to secure the 20 landscape-level snow leopard populations by 2020;
  • To empower local communities and foster the stewardship of biological and cultural diversity in tandem with the development of sustainable livelihoods;
  • To combine indigenous and western approaches to conservation to benefit snow leopards and their high mountain ecosystems;
  • To revitalize ancient ceremonies that honor the snow leopard spirit as a unifier and “protector” or “guide” of humanity and nature;
  • To establish sacred sites for the spiritual and conservation ecology of snow leopards and other sacred animals.
Wildlife & Landscapes