Kazakhstan taking steps to protect Snow leopards

The snow leopard is one of Kazakhstan’s rarest animals and a national symbol. Populations are scattered, stretching from high, rugged mountain range habitats in the east (administrative regions of East Kazakhstan and Almaty) to the south (administrative regions of Zhambyl and South Kazakhstan), complicating getting an accurate population count. Estimates place the number of snow leopards in Kazakhstan at 140-180 individual cats. The snow leopard has been included in the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Red Book since its first edition, published in 1978.

Similar to those faced by snow leopards in other parts of their range (including Altai), threats include poaching, decline in natural prey species, and retaliatory killings by locals when the cats prey on livestock. Rising temperatures in the mountains affect the entire ecosystem, threatening to further shrink the species’ alpine habitat. Increased human intrusion into mountain ecosystems from the construction of highways, ski resorts, and other infrastructure projects pose a huge threat to snow leopards, causing habitat fragmentation and disturbances and increasing poaching.

Non-governmental, state scientific, and government organizations share responsibilities for conserving Kazakhstan’s snow leopard population. Specifically, these include the Kazakhstan Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity (NGO); (2) Institute of Zoology (under the Ministry of Education and Science), and (3) the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife (under the Ministry of Agriculture). Ongoing work has achieved some success, notably in reducing poaching and illegal trade of snow leopards, which flourished in Kazakhstan in the 1900s and early 2000s.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is also involved in Kazakhstan’s snow leopard conservation and has developed a landscape management plan—a successful method of biodiversity conservation—for the cat’s key habitats in the country. In collaboration with the Institute of Zoology, UNDP has studied the boundaries of potential habitats for the snow leopard and its prey base. UNDP is also engaged in identifying best methods and equipment for monitoring snow leopards and its prey species, decisions that are critical for obtaining accurate data on the animals and state of ecosystems.