Snow leopards and tigers “sister species”

February 22, 2010

Siberian tigers also live in snow. But many other tigers live in jungles and tropical climates. Photo Wikipedia.

Scientists have conducted a DNA analysis of the big cats and found the tiger and snow leopard are “sister species”. Brian Davis, Dr. Gang Li and professor William Murphy published their findings in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution recently.

It has long been known that the five species of big cat, the tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard, which belong to the Panthera genus, and the two species of clouded leopard, are more closely related to each other than to other smaller cats. But the exact relationships between them have been hard to identify.

19th century painting of a tiger by Kuniyoshi Utagawa. Photo Wikipedia.

The researchers looked at differences and similarities between the big cats species in terms of the genetic information stored in their mitochondrial DNA, and the gender chromosomes. They found lions, leopards and jaguars were found to be the most tightly linked, with a common ancestor probably living about 4.3 to 3.8 million years ago.

But also at this same time (around 4 million years ago) the common ancestor of snow leopards and tigers appeared.

Today sadly both these beautiful cats have another thing in common – they are among the world’s most endangered big cats. Fewer than 3500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild and estimates for snow leopards vary from 3500 to 5000.

This year, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, is an opportunity to help protect both these cats and learn more about them and their habitat.

See more on the BBC website.

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Spot the snow leopard!

February 1, 2010

Snow leopard camouflage. Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust.

We all know snow leopards have fabulous camouflage with their gray, white and yellowish fur and the spotty rosettes. But this really proves it. Kim Murray, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Assistant Director of Science took these photos and showed them to some school kids and asked where the snow leopard was hiding. They couldn’t find it, neither could I. (I squinted for over ten minutes at my computer screen).

Here it is!

Snow leopard revealed! Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust. Kim's working on the SLT's 10 year research project in the South Gobi, Mongolia.


Sleeping in a cave to save snow leopards and report on Himalayan climate change

January 12, 2010

Navin Singh Khadka, environmental journalist for the BBC. Photo by The Nepal Monitor.

Navin Singh Khadka is an environmental journalist from Nepal with a keen interest in how climate change is affecting the Himalayas. Currently based in London, he is an Environment Reporter for BBC News.

Navin has had some tough adventures doing his work. In today’s interview with The Nepal Monitor he not only talks about climate change coverage in Nepal’s media but also how he once battled altitude sickness to cover a story about risks faced by Everest porters (see story here) and slept in a mountain cave doing a story on snow leopard poaching.

Navin Singh Khadka at 4000m with Sherpa porters. Photo by BBC.

Asked what inspired him to become an environmental reporter and focus on climate change Navin says – “Environment has been one area I have been consistently and intensively covering since I began journalism more than one and a half decades ago. Wildlife used to be my favorite beat, and I have slept in caves in trans-Himalayan region to investigate, for instance, poaching of Snow leopard. But over the years I have witnessed how climate change is changing our natural environment, and that is how I was drawn into covering this phenomenal global issue. With so much of regional and global politics increasingly surrounding it, as a journalist, there is no looking back, I guess.

“Reporting climate issues for the BBC Nepali service is quite satisfying as I can reach millions of those very rural people who are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts but have no idea about climate change.” Read the full story here.

See Video of Navin talking about climate change in Nepal.


December 24, 2009

High school students rally against climate change impacts in town of Booni, northern Pakistan Himalaya.

Students from Booni High School in Chitral, northern Pakistan held a Climate Change Vigil rally a few days ago. The young people are concerned about massive degradation to the natural environment linked to global warming. For example the destruction of the village Sonoghor in June 2007 when a glacier overlooking the village burst and in the avalanche of flood water that followed, houses, orchards, crops and other property was swept away. As a result over 100 families were displaced and 38 houses completely buried under the flood.

It’s believed that global climate change during the first half of the twentieth century has impacted on the high mountainous glacial environment. Many of the big glaciers melted (and are continuing to melt) rapidly, creating a large number of glacier lakes. The burst of a glacier results in glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) when the water dammed by a glacier is released over time, anything from minutes to a few days. Glacial lake outburst floods can cause disasters to life and property downstream, resulting in death toll and destruction of valuable forests, farms and costly mountain infrastructure.

Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of UNEP says. “The findings from our joint studies in the Himalayas, the roof of the world, reveals the extent of a new and alarming threat. It is not just the risk to human lives, agriculture and property that should worry us. Mountains are the world’s water towers feeding the rivers and lakes upon which all life depends. If the glaciers continue to retreat at the rates being seen in places like the Himalayas, then many rivers and freshwater systems could run dry, threatening drinking water supplies, as well as fisheries and wildlife. We now have another compelling reason to act to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

The students of Chitral are among many people in the Himalaya who fear for their lives, livelihoods, their environment and their wildlife as a result of the impact of climate change. At the end of the rally they passed several resolutions seeking action from their government, the world community and requesting education about climate change be included in their school curriculum. See more here.


Himalayan villagers and snow leopards won’t find too much to like from Copenhagen

December 19, 2009

Failure or the beginning of something better? Only time will tell. But the deal struck by world leaders at the end of the talks will not halt global warming and President Obama admits it just doesn’t go far enough. Not enough money committed to it  and the decision on targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2020 was put off.

I have to say I’m dissapointed after all the time, effort, energy, money and hype for this conference. I wonder how long before the Himalayas and the rest of the planet gets some real action? Read full story here.


Everest Declaration to protect home of snow leopard from more climate change impacts

December 17, 2009

Members of Nepal's cabinet wearing oxygen masks at their Everest Declaration Climate Change meeting over 5000m on Kala Pathar. Photo CNN.

Early in December in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference Nepal came up with a 10-point declaration for dealing with the environmental impact on Everest and the Himalayan region caused by global warming.

A few years ago Peter Hillary warned that some areas around Everest are sinking, with Base camp, (used by his father Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay) having shed about 40 meters of ice.

The Everest Declaration was issued following the Nepalese cabinet ministers’ historic session held at the Kala Patthar base camp at over 5000m high. Full points to the ministers for going there and coming up with the Declaration. I was at Kala Patthar myself some years ago and found it hard to breathe let alone think 😉 I guess it helped that they had oxygen masks.

The Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumal Nepal said “Mt. Everest is an icon of world environment. The 2,700 kilometer east-west range of the Himalayas is witness to the culture, tradition and natural heritage of 1.3 billion people.”

Effects of global warming are causing increasing natural calamities, impacting wildlife as well as putting pressure on the nation’s socio-economic development.

The 10-point declaration includes strategies to raise national awareness on global warming and a government commitment to increase conservation areas in Nepal from 20 percent to 25 percent and consolidating 40 percent of forest area. We’ll watch and see how this progresses over the next year few years.


Climate change in the home of snow leopards

December 7, 2009

With the UN Summit at Copenhagen starting now, there’s been some focus in recent weeks on the impact of climate change on the worlds highest mountain system, the Himalayas. A recent press conference called “Stop Melting Life, Save The Himalayas”in Kathmandu highlighted the threat of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of many people in Nepal. Local researchers have found that rainfall patterns are changing rapidly and that temperatures are on the increase leading to the dramatic retreat of Himalayan glaciers. There are grave concerns for what this will mean for the billions of people living in the basin of the rivers fed by Himalayas glaciers.

Opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit with 192 nations attending. Photo official Summit website.

A few days ago there was a historic Nepal Cabinet meeting high on the Kala Patthar Plateau (near Mount Everest) also focusing on this issue. Today many government ministers along with a group of famous Everest summiteers are organising a march in the streets of Copenhagen for next week. The march will carry the message of  “Save the Himalayas” and coincides with International Mountain Day. It is to be hoped that all this will help focus much needed attention on this fragile part of the world where the potential impact of climate change could affect not only keystone species like  endangered snow leopards but also the lives of billions of people.

Follow all the discussions and decisions of this momentous conference at the official website.