In April 2016, Dr. Muhammad Ali Nawaz was one of two SOS Grantees who won the renowned Whitley Fund for Nature's Whitley Awards. Accepting the reward, Dr. Nawaz (Ali) added he was glad to share a conservation success story from Pakistan with the world.
Acknowledged for his passionate work on community-focused conservation programmes to curb poaching and retribution killing of Endangered Snow Leopards (Panthera uncia) in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan Province, Ali’s story is one of dedication to changing life in conflict to one of coexistence with nature.
Based at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Ali leads the Snow Leopard Programme in Pakistan - a partnership initiative between the Snow Leopard Foundation, Federal Ministry of Climate Change, provincial Wildlife Departments and local communities. Despite being a legally protected species, the 200 Pakistan Snow Leopards continue to face dire threats because there was no apparent way to balance the needs of wildlife and community. Apart from poaching for their furs, reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, habitat loss and fragmentation, retaliatory killings were found to be a major key threat. “When a Snow Leopard preys on a family’s livestock, they suffer irreparable economic losses and people are inclined to seek retribution” elaborates Ali.
But through innovative measures to buffer against livestock losses and increase tolerance livestock, that situation is changing. For example vaccinations and improved herding practices, reduced livestock loss from diseases and predation in pens by 80%. “This contributes to increased income in the community”, he explains.
Continuous interaction through community meetings and environmental education has broadened community understanding about the ecological role of Snow Leopards, promoting acceptance. The Snow Leopard programme has also generated unprecedented scientific information on the unique ecosystem of the northern mountains, through state of the art research tools. Ali adds, “the programme is nurturing young ecologists to build Pakistan’s capacity in field research and prepare next-generation conservationists to continue this important work”.
In 2013, Government of Pakistan signed the Bishkek Declaration for the Snow Leopard, which recognizes the role of local people in conservation. In 2014, the Government of Pakistan created a national Snow Leopard strategy and devoted three landscapes covering 40,000 sq km. of appropriate habitat for increased conservation under a global plan called the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme (GSLEP).
The Government then set their first goal to develop a comprehensive management plan for this landscape in collaboration with national and local stakeholders, including the creation and expansion of community-based conservation programs able to meet economic needs of rural households.
For Ali, the Whitley Award will support implementation of GSLEP in Pakistan, by supporting development of first landscape-level strategy for the Snow Leopard model landscapes, and by engaging with 6,000 herders to enable the co-existence of communities and carnivores.
In this world of more than 7 billion people, we are facing an immense challenge to balance the needs of nature with our own. The Whitley Awards recognise and reward success among grassroots leaders who champion species conservation in such an increasingly crowded world.
This year, two SOS Grantees won awards – Dr. Muhammad Ali Nawaz was one. Karau Kuna was another. In celebrating their success SOS wishes to congratulate both Muhammad Ali Nawaz and Karau Kuna as well as all Whitley Awards winners for their dedication, passion and achievements in championing peace with nature.