Saving the magnificent cat

Updated: 2014-09-12 11:59

By Deng Yu(China Daily USA)

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Stronger laws

The Chinese government has strengthened the law to ban poaching and initiated a major community-based conservation program to train local people to monitor the health of the habitat and create an "ecological civilization". Certain communities have been given rights by the government to protect and manage their own land, and some areas have even set up their own conservation organizations, as have some Buddhist monasteries.

The WWF China also has been working on the problem of livestock herders. It began its effort to protect snow leopards on the Tibetan Plateau in 2006 with a human-wildlife conflict survey conducted in the southern Chang Tang region of Tibet. The survey revealed a high rate of conflict between livestock herders and snow leopards.

WWF followed the survey with the widespread distribution of educational materials about snow leopard ecology and how herders could reduce and prevent loss of livestock to snow leopards, such as by avoiding herding in snow leopard habitat, putting roofs on their livestock corrals and guarding their sheep better.

The foundation also established two trial compensation funds for the poorest families in areas that give partial compensation for livestock lost to snow leopards.

The foundation plans to replicate its successes in protecting the snow leopards of Tibet in the Yangtze Source of Qinghai province, with the goal of eventually reaching all snow leopard range areas of the Tibetan Plateau with the message of the need to protect the endangered animals.

Challenges persist

However, challenges still exist. The huge region where the snow leopard roams is physically isolated and difficult to reach to carry out research on the cats. Poverty among the local herders pushes them to increase their goat herds.

"And still many people know nothing about the snow leopards. In addition to innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the cat will have a future in this region only with more people getting involved," said Xiao, the zoology student at Peking University.

One person who has become involved with the work at the reserve is Alexia Fite, a 17-year-old student from Garfield High School in Seattle, whose grandmother is very involved in protecting snow leopards through the Snow Leopard Trust.

"Everything was giant and incredibly beautiful," she said of her first impression on entering the Sanjiangyuan reserve last year.

She returned to China this summer and with the Shan Shui scientists, including snow leopard expert Xiao, and spent 10 days surveying Blue Sheep and setting up camera traps.

It was her second trip to the reserve, and this year Alexia brought William Reagon, a junior from Lakeside Middle School in Seattle, with her. Together with more than 30 scientists and photographers, they helped wildlife monitoring by searching and documenting snow leopard sightings.

"I hope in the near future more high school students around the whole country or in the world get interested in being involved in this kind of thing," Alexia said.

"I hope more people, not only in China, get to know and care as much about the big cat, as they do about the panda," Xiao said.

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(China Daily USA 09/12/2014 page19)

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