By Dr. Tom McCarthy
Science and Conservation Director, Snow Leopard Trust
With research and conservation programs to keep up with in several snow leopard countries, my visits to each individual conservation site are sadly infrequent. So earlier this summer, when my plane dropped between the rugged peaks of the Hindu Kush and landed in Chitral, a small town in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, it had been nearly three years since my last visit. A pity, since it is one of the most beautiful sites in all the snow leopard’s range, and its people could not be more welcoming. On this visit I was not disappointed, as villagers took me into their homes, spoke passionately about snow leopards, and asked that I carry a simple message back to our supporters—Thank You.
Herders near Chitral rely heavily on livestock for their livelihood, and stock losses to depredation and disease make life very hard. So here the Trust uses a two-pronged approach to ease the burden of poverty though handicraft development and livestock vaccinations.
Sitting under a flowering apricot tree in the mountain village of Kuju I listened to a number of elders tell me why the Trust's work is important and how it is helping conserve snow leopards. In their own words:
"As disease decreases in livestock, our poverty too is less, so the vaccination program has been extremely important to us. The trained extension workers help the entire village so now we see nearly 90 percent less losses than before," one villager told me.
Another said, "Because of the handicraft project the women of our village can stand on their own feet and make money for their families. The vaccination program has helped a lot as well, and many diseases are not seen here anymore. We are quite satisfied with the work of the Trust, as there have been many benefits, and we want to maintain our good relations."
An ancient but beaming man added, "We are very proud of this project, we are selling handmade napkins in America! Our story is in the news across Pakistan and now everyone knows of Kuju. Your project has helped make us proud to protect snow leopards."
And the last to speak sent me with this story: "Two snow leopards and their children have visited us here for many years, for a long time we were against these leopards because they killed our livestock. But now we are friends. The snow leopard is a masterpiece of nature and the Snow Leopard Trust has taught us to protect it. Please go back to America and tell your members Thank You!"