AboutZoos, Since 2008


Pro­tected Areas are too small for snow leop­ards, says new research

pub­lished 24 Sep­tem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 24 Sep­tem­ber 2016

A new sci­en­tific report has con­firmed that nearly 40% of all pro­tected areas across the snow leop­ard’s range are too small to sup­port even one breed­ing pair of these endan­gered cats.

» Snow leop­ards had sub­stan­tially larger home ranges than pre­vi­ously reported;
» Snow leop­ard home ranges were exclu­sive with lit­tle over­lap;
» Only a few pro­tected areas across Asia are large enough to sus­tain 15 females;
» Snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion requires a land shar­ing approach.

Pub­lished online on 8 Sep­tem­ber by sci­en­tists from Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences, Snow Leop­ard Trust, Pan­thera and Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion in Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, the study has shown that less than 15%, and likely as few as 34%, of all pro­tected areas in snow leop­ard habi­tat are large enough to host a small pop­u­la­tion of 15 breed­ing females. Per­haps even more telling, across 170 pro­tected areas in Asia, only eight are esti­mated to main­tain the space required to sup­port 50 or more breed­ing females.

The find­ings under­score the impor­tance of community-​based, con­flict mitigation-​focused con­ser­va­tion approaches extend­ing beyond pro­tected areas.

Snow leopard laysaLaysa, a female snow leop­ard that was tracked with a GPS col­lar in the long-​term study in Tost.
Image credit: SLT /​SLCF /​Pan­thera

Analysing satel­lite based GPS-​tracking data from an unprece­dented six­teen snow leop­ards col­lared in the first ever, long-​term com­pre­hen­sive study of the species in Mongolia’s South Gobi, researchers deter­mined that the aver­age home range from the study area is 220 km2 for males and 130 km2 for females. Putting these num­bers in per­spec­tive, a male snow leopard’s home range is com­pa­ra­ble to 3.5 times the size of Manhattan.

To frame these find­ings in the con­text of con­ser­va­tion actions, the research team com­pared aver­age snow leop­ard home ranges to all 170 offi­cial state-​sanctioned Pro­tected Areas within the cat’s habitat.

Our results show that snow leop­ards have a sub­stan­tially larger spa­tial need than pre­vi­ously thought
Örjan Johans­son, lead author, Grimsö Wildlife Research Sta­tion, Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy, Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences; Snow Leop­ard Trust; and Panthera »

These home ranges are between 6 and 44 times larger than what ear­lier stud­ies had reported. The largest home range we’ve seen was more than 1,000 km2,” added Johansson.

The study also found very lit­tle over­lap in home ranges of adult cats of the same sex, sug­gest­ing that snow leop­ards are largely territorial.

These find­ings are in con­trast to pre­vi­ous stud­ies indi­cat­ing vastly smaller home ranges and greater over­lap between indi­vid­u­als. Prior stud­ies were con­ducted using older, less accu­rate sci­en­tific research meth­ods, includ­ing ground-​based, hand held VHF tracking.

Rare footage of a snow leop­ard fam­ily, cap­tured by a remote-​sensor research cam­era in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat Ertash Nature Reserve. Cour­tesy of Snow Leop­ard Foun­da­tion Kyr­gyzs­tan and Snow Leop­ard Trust:

(Source: Snow Leop­ard Trust YouTube channel)

Forty per­cent of these Pro­tected Areas are smaller than an aver­age male home range – so they’re too small to host even one breed­ing pair of snow leop­ards,” Örjan Johans­son stated. “This means that any cats liv­ing in these areas will also reg­u­larly use sur­round­ing areas that are unpro­tected. We can’t sim­ply assume they’re safe and sound just because their habi­tat falls within a Pro­tected Area.”

One breed­ing pair alone doesn’t help much, and even a pop­u­la­tion with 15 breed­ing females might still be too small for long-​term sur­vival. We really need large, secure pop­u­la­tions of 50 or more breed­ing females for this cat to sur­vive. The Pro­tected Area sys­tem, while impor­tant, can­not pro­vide enough con­nected habi­tats to allow for this. Even under the most gen­er­ous model of how many cats can fit into an area, there are only eight exist­ing Pro­tected Areas that could fit 50 or more breed­ing females right now,” Johans­son added.

Pro­tected Areas serve an impor­tant role as core habi­tats for snow leop­ards and their prey, but this study shows that we need to focus our atten­tion on pro­tect­ing larger land­scapes – and that means work­ing with the local com­mu­ni­ties who live along­side these cats
(Charu Mishra, the Snow Leop­ard Trust’s Sci­ence & Con­ser­va­tion Director)

Community-​based con­ser­va­tion over large land­scapes has been a cor­ner­stone of the efforts by the Snow Leop­ard Trust, Pan­thera and the Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion to pro­tect this cat. This involves part­ner­ing with local com­mu­ni­ties to mit­i­gate con­flict over live­stock and fos­ter coex­is­tence, and work­ing with gov­ern­ments to limit the neg­a­tive impacts of devel­op­ment projects such as min­ing, and other human influ­ences on wild habitats.

(Source: Snow Leop­ard Trust press release, 21.09.2016)

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