Innovative insurance scheme saves snow leopards

In the rocky Himalayan Mountains of Baltistan, of northern Pakistan, the elusive and beautiful snow leopard (Panthera uncial) is in a battle for survival.

Rolex Award winner Shafqat Hussain

Listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, numbers of snow leopards are dropping due to hunting and the trade of their skin and bones. But that is not the only reason they are killed. Farmers, who are heavily dependent on their animals for their livelihood, occasionally kill snow leopards in retaliation when their herds are attacked.

To discourage these types of killings and to ensure that poor farmers do not bear the financial burden of successful Snow Leopard conservation, Shafqat Hussain, an economist and conservationist who is a member of the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, devised an insurance plan whereby farmers pay a small amount to insure their livestock and receive compensation for every animal that is killed.

Controlled and run by local people, the scheme called Project Snow Leopard is helping to protect snow leopards. In recognition of the quality of his project, Hussain won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006 that allowed him to extend the scheme from three valleys to 10 in northern Pakistan.

The money from the Rolex Award also helped Hussain to build predator-proof goat pens and continue monitoring in the region. Remote camera traps were set up to study the snow leopards, providing essential information for further conservation. Hussain also set up an eco-tourism company, Full Moon Night Trekking, to provide funding for the insurance scheme, but unstable political conditions in Pakistan mean this source of income is now less reliable and other funding opportunities have to be explored.

The scheme has been replicated in Nepal, China and India, bringing protection to more snow leopards and supporting struggling farmers. However, there is much work to be done to make the insurance plan available in other areas.

Sitting at the top of the food chain, the Snow Leopard has a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the mountains of Baltistan. The protection of this one species will also benefit other wildlife.

To find out more about Shafqat Hussain and the Rolex Awards for Enterprise please visit the Rolex Awards for Enterprise website.

For more information about Project Snow Leopard please contact:
Shafqat Hussain, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Trinity College, USA. e:  

Work area: 
Regional species initiatives
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