The University of Central Asia (UCA) announced an innovative research partnership with the Secretariat of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme (GSLEP), Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) and the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan (SLFK) to conserve fragile ecosystems and promote sustainable development in Central Asia’s high mountain regions.
Established through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the four organisations, the partnership will contribute to securing, by the year 2020, one of the first ‘snow leopard landscapes’ identified by the snow leopard range countries.
The University’s interdisciplinary Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI), dedicated to generating high-quality research that enhances the resilience and quality of life in mountain societies, will help implement a key component of the broader regional effort.
The snow leopard is a flagship species that lives in habitats spanning 12 countries. In addition to their historic role among the cultures of many mountain communities, snow leopard populations are a direct measure of an ecosystem’s health. Their habitats include vital watersheds that provide water to up to 60 per cent of the world’s human population.
The approach championed by the GSLEP represents a paradigm shift in conservation. Known as “20 by 2020,” the programme is partnering with local communities, governments and various organizations to reduce economic losses due to human-wildlife conflict, implement state of the art research and monitoring mechanisms, improve livelihood options and provide alternative development models in landscapes that are shared by humans and wildlife.
Thriving, prosperous local communities have few incentives to destroy ecosystems that provide them vital resources, and thus are the first and best line of defense against wildlife crime and habitat destruction.
The GSLEP was launched following an October 2013 meeting of leaders from the 12 countries that are home to snow leopards. Hosted by President Almazbek Atambayev of the Kyrgyz Republic, the unprecedented event in the Kyrgyz capital between government representatives from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan resulted in the Bishkek Declaration. Under the Declaration, each government pledged “to ensure that snow leopards and the people who live among them thrive in healthy ecosystems that contribute to the prosperity and well-being of [all 12] countries and the planet.”
In the Kyrgyz Republic, the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF) tasked GSLEP and its partners with developing a management plan for the Central Tien Shan mountain range. Under the MoU, MSRI and its partners will help the Government-assembled group develop a management plan for the Central Tien Shan landscape, which encompasses the upper watershed of the Naryn river. UCA’s first residential undergraduate campus is situated downstream, in the mountain province of Naryn.
“Biodiversity conservation in snow leopard landscapes is as much about people and perceptions, and also about politics and policies, as it is about the biology of the snow leopard per se,” explained MSRI Associate Director Dr Marc Foggin. “Both the natural and the social dimensions of conservation issues must be considered.”
Dr Foggin’s striking photographs from the Kyrgyz Republic and neighbouring countries were featured in The Silent Roar: UNDP and GEF in the Snow Leopard Landscape, a publication produced in partnership with the Kyrgyz Government, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in honour of International Snow Leopard Day, celebrated on 23 October annually.
As a founding research institute of UCA’s Graduate School of Development, MSRI is committed to “research-for-development,” that encourages sustainable land use while empowering citizens to be stewards of their environments.