The central Asian country of Tajikistan is home to over 100,000 km² of high-value snow leopard habitat and a significant population of snow leopards. Although no precise population estimate for the species in this country is available, experts think there may be as many as 300 there today. Known as the ‘Roof of the World,’ Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains are situated at the intersection of several of Asia’s greatest mountain ranges, providing a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of snow leopard range, and serving as a vital corridor for the species’ genetic interchange.
Within this landscape, Marco polo sheep, ibex and markhor serve as primary prey species for snow leopards, but extensive poaching of these wild mountain ungulates by local communities is a major threat facing this big cat today. Establishing a vicious cycle of conflict, overhunting of prey species can force snow leopards to prey on local villagers’ livestock, frequently resulting in the retaliatory killing of these cats. The pervasive use and degradation of snow leopard habitat for livestock grazing, coupled with growing demand from the illegal wildlife trade for snow leopard skins, bones, other body parts and live cubs, are additional threats impacting the survival of snow leopards in Tajikistan.
Until recently, research and conservation efforts in the country were limited. Today, Panthera’s team of snow leopard scientists and our partners are working to fill these gaps to ensure the conservation of both snow leopards and their prey in Tajikistan, now and into the future.
Since 2009, Panthera’s Vice President, Dr. George Schaller, and Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, have played an active role in the research and conservation of snow leopards and their prey in country.
Key activities include:
- Developing a Tajik Snow Leopard Action Plan with Panthera’s partners, due to be finalized in 2013;
- Conducting broad snow leopard population surveys and threat assessments in the Pamirs;
- Developing a model community-managed hunting concession in the Eastern Pamirs to ensure the sustainable use of Marco Polo sheep and ibex, and economic and social benefits for communities involved;
- Conducting field training of young Tajik conservation biologists;
- Supporting a University of Delaware research project in the Eastern Pamirs examining the conservation status of snow leopards and their prey in two areas:
- A trophy hunting concession in which Marco polo sheep and ibex are sustainably managed, and
- A second site where hunting regulations are lax, and poaching and overgrazing are common;
- Supporting two local conservancies in the Wakhan Valley through a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded conservation project to reduce farmer-snow leopard conflict; and
- Assessing the distribution and density of snow leopards in the Darvaz range of the Pamir Mountains, at the edge of the species’ southwestern-most range in Tajikistan, where markhor numbers have rebounded thanks to the conservation efforts of local conservancies.
Madiyan villagers map the natural resource availability of Madiyan Gorge, including identifying where snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and ibex are found, to help establish a community-managed hunting concession of snow leopard prey species
- Committee for Environmental Protection under the Republic of Tajikistan
- Institute of Zoology and the Pamir Biological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan
- German International Development Cooperation (GIZ) Regional Programme on Sustainable Use of Natural Resources (Mountain Ungulates Project in Tajikistan)
- Flora and Fauna International
- Yokuti Darshay and Yuz Palang conservancies in the Wakhan valley, Tajikistan
- M-Sayed markhor conservancy in Darvaz
Learn more about Panthera's Snow Leopard Conservation projects in:
Read ‘Trekking with Tom’ - a blog series by Dr. Tom McCarthy on some of his snow leopard conservation work in Tajikistan and India