IUCN celebrates the birth of the son of Leo the Snow Leopard, himself a rescued orphan from Pakistan in 2005. The cub was born on April 9 at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
In a remarkable story of conservation collaboration between Pakistan and the United States, young Leo, whose mother and siblings were killed, was rescued from the Nalter Valley and taken care of by the Wildlife Department, WWF and IUCN. It was clear that the cub could not be returned to the wild, and with the support of IUCN and the Government of Pakistan, a plan was devised to send him to the Bronx Zoo. Run by IUCN Member the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Bronx Zoo has over 100 years of experience in Snow Leopard care.
“This is great news. It shows the strength of this unique partnership for wildlife conservation across two continents - an orphaned Himalayan Snow Leopard cub ending up breeding in captivity in the U.S. It is also evidence of the breadth and diversity of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan," said Malik Amin Khan, IUCN Vice President and Pakistan’s former Minister of State for Environment.
Yet serious threats to the Snow Leopard remain in its range states including Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan and areas of central Asia up to Mongolia and Russia. The Snow Leopard population is believed to have declined by at least 20% over the past 16 years due to habitat and prey loss and poaching. The Snow Leopard is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
"One of the reasons IUCN helped push hard to get Leo to the Bronx Zoo was because there was simply no adequate facility within Pakistan. A world-class wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility is still urgently needed in the country,” said Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Asia Regional Director.
The fragile high-altitude grasslands and snow covered peaks that provide habitat for Snow Leopards are suffering from overstocking with livestock which has led to a decline in the wild prey base and increased human-wildlife conflict as Snow Leopards must prey on livestock for their survival.
WCS Asia Program Deputy Director Peter Zahler said: “Leo – and his new cub are living proof of the importance, power, and significance of saving wildlife. Leo has helped bring people together from around the world in an effort to save this iconic animal, and WCS is committed to working with our partners in Pakistan to help save snow leopards in the wild – as a critical component and a beautiful symbol of Pakistan’s great mountain wilderness.”
Local action is needed to address these kinds of issues. In one innovative effort to address retributive killings, Shafat Hussain, a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Cat Specialist Group, devised a community-based insurance fund for those who have lost their livestock to predators. The project, which started in Balitstan, Pakistan, has been replicated in Nepal, China and India, with conservation success.
“We commend the excellent Snow Leopard conservation work of the Wildlife Conservation Society and our other member organizations, as well as our own Species Survival Commission,” said Scott Perkin, Head of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Programme, Asia. “However, if we are to stabilize the population of this extraordinary species, more concerted action needs to be taken in the areas where they live. This means local level action that addresses the needs of both people and wildlife.”
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