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.

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Saving sheep from snow leopards, saves the snow leopards

May 24, 2009
Snow leopard proof corral. Photo Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow leopard proof corral. Photo Snow Leopard Conservancy

When snow leopards kill domestic livestock in the villages of the Himalayas they are usually then hunted and killed by the owners in retaliation. It’s easy to understand why villagers would do this. Often these sheep and goats are the only livelihood they have, representing meat and money without which they and their families would starve.

Snow leopard proof corral in Pakistan. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow leopard proof corral in Pakistan. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservancy

About 10 years ago many of the conservation agencies working with villagers realised that there was a simple solution to this problem – building better snow leopard proof corrals. Although the idea is simple, the tools and material like cyclone wire are relatively expensive and so donated by the agencies working with village people. With co-operative planning the Snow Leopard Conservancy for example, investigated the existing predator proof strategies of villagers in India and Pakistan.

They’ve come up with solutions that meet local needs and completed over 30 corrals (livestock pens) throughout northern India since the program began, serving over 200 households and over 3,000 head of livestock. Now that the xorrals have proper doors, windows and roofs made of wire mesh the snow leopards are no longer able to get into them. This story shows us another example of the potential for snow leopards and people to live side by side in a shared habitat.


Snow Leopard – beyond the myth

May 11, 2009
Nisar Malik

Nisar Malik

The ABC ran this beautiful program last night, our second snow leopard program on Melbourne TV in a week! It tracks the filming of a female snow leopard and her cub by Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist along with cameraman Mark Smith. They spent 18 months and two extreme winters getting footage of the cat hunting, resting, playing.

Malik was one of the team who got the first ever videos of wild snow leopards in 2004 for David Attenborough’s Planet Earth – The Mountains episode. He was so bewitched by the animal at the time he felt he had to go back and make a full length documentary about it and its habitat in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, the remote mountains where Pakistan meets Afghanistan.

After the first winter when the two men filmed the female and her cub they return later in summer after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan only to search for 8 weeks in vain. The only thing of interest they see are marmots, the small rodents snow leopards love to feast on.

Mark Smith films them from a hide but after two weeks he says wearily “I hate marmots” and hope they deafen each other with their vicious shrieks. Having spent many hours myself counting marmots in freezing weather, on my own, with nothing more than a chocolate bar to keep me sane, I know exactly how he feels.

Radio collared female. BBC film by Nisar Malik.

Radio collared female. BBC film by Nisar Malik.

Anyway Malik and Smith return again the next winter and meet their female cat again, only to discover she’s been radio collared. Malik is shocked (and I must say I was too when we see how its done). But, listening to the Snow Leopard Trust’s Tom McCarthy explain and see the cat doing her normal hunting and other behaviours we understand that she’s OK. We all know it’s important to get information about the cats in the wild in order to protect them longterm and this is really the only way.

Nisar’s photo gallery of this trip here.

Here is a small piece of the documentary from YouTube.