Monday, May 14, 2007
SNOW LEOPARD PROJECT STALLED
Ambitious plans to conserve Himalayan Snow Leopards face fund crunch
GANGTOK, May 13: An ambitious project to protect one of the Himalayas’ big cats has failed to take off from the drawing board.
'Project Snow Leopard', the Union Environment Ministry's innovative conservation project for the high altitude Himalayan landscape, may not see the light of the day, at least not in this financial year.
This Project has been stalled by a year with the Planning Commission not allocating any money for it in the 2007-08 Budget.
The Project envisages using the elusive and endangered high-altitude cat, of which 200-600 specimens are estimated remaining in the wild in India, as a flagship species to work with communities on conservation of the habitat in the higher ranges of five States – Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Environment Ministry has set up a steering committee, including senior officials from the Centre as well as the five States, to give impetus to the Project. But the Planning Commission, working to revamp the allocation process under the 11th Five-Year Plan for the environment ministry, has put on hold most new projects that were proposed. 'Project Snow Leopard' is one of the casualties. The PSL committee has reportedly placed a budget demand of Rs. 30 crores for putting into operation the Project in 2007-08.
But now with the Planning Commission holding back money for the Project, the work done by the Environment Ministry over several years along with the State governments and research organisations will not get translated into action at the field level this year.
Project Snow Leopard is a conservation initiative modelled after Project Tiger and Project Elephant. Its purpose is to preserve the ecosystem to which snow leopards belong through cooperating with local residents, governments, scientists, and NGOs.
This news has worried conservationists. Snow leopards today are globally threatened with extinction. “The Himalaya – the highest and the most imposing of the mountain ranges on earth and a global biodiversity hotspot covers nearly 4,00,000 km2, about 12 percent of India’s geographical area. The high altitudes of the Himalaya (above 10,000 ft) harbour a unique and rich but highly threatened wildlife assemblage, which includes large carnivores such as snow leopard, Himalayan brown bear, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan antelope, Black-necked crane,” says Usha Lachungpa, Senior Research Officer, Forest, Environment & Wildlife Department. “Sikkim has a good presence of Snow Leopards but the exact number is uncertain as there has been no census conducted on these beautiful cats owing to topography and man-made boundaries,” she adds.
Ms. Lachungpa cities many examples of how the existence of Snow Leopards is threatened today. “Increasing population coupled with the mainstream development process has influenced the patterns of farming, transport, communication and market relationship. This has brought about a change in the traditional lifestyles of the Himalayan people which has in turn, affected the ecological balance.”
As a consequence, several instances of apparent conflict between people and wildlife have been observed in the high altitudes. This conflict is manifested in the form of retaliatory hunting of carnivores such as snow leopard, or keeping wild herbivores that damage crops or pastures away from their traditional foraging areas. Since high altitude wildlife of Himalayas is spread across many national boundaries, its conservation also depends on political and military influences. Negative ecological impacts of tourism, mountaineering and pilgrimage have also been documented in the region. Absence or ineffectiveness of local institutions, lack of awareness among people and poor implementation of laws has further hampered wildlife conservation. “The rise in the number of stray dogs in high altitude areas is also a cause for concern. These dogs prey on smaller animals which upset the food chain of the Big Cats,” Ms. Lachungpa said.
Feeling the urgent need to formulate a plan of action to conserve this Himalayan Big Cat, the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT) and the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) have been organizing and carrying out a series of State-level conferences in cooperation with the Wildlife Institute of India and Governments of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir with the purpose of identifying regions that need to be included in the Project Snow Leopard. This series of conferences resulted in a concept paper calling for a scientifically sound and socially responsible high altitude wildlife conservation strategy involving the State and Central Governments, representatives of the local communities, and conservation and development NGOs.
Sikkim was one of the first States to give its inputs towards the draft proposal of the Project Snow Leopard.
According to reports, the States plan to utilise some funds from sources meant for national parks and sanctuaries to tide over the financial vacuum created this year. Besides this, they have also requested the Centre to look at allocating some money from other heads to tide over the financial squeeze.
at Monday, May 14, 2007