Special Coverage: International Snow Leopard Summit, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic.

Onward Nepal’s coverage of the International Snow Leopard Summit and Ecosystem Forum from the Kyrgyz capital, by Kashish Das Shrestha, Pragati Shahi, and Sudhir Bhandari. Latest posts on top.

Read our Snow Leopard series Part I which includes the background and history of the GSLEP event.

August 31:
Bishkek Declaration 2017 and Nepal

Keshav Varma, CEO of the GTI Council which oversees the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) in Delhi, and Global Snow Leopard Environmental Plan (GSLEP) for snow leopards in Bishkek, and Prakash Mathema, Nepal’s Forest Secretary, at the President’s residence in Bishkek on Aug. 25.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/ON

High-level government delegates, scientists, conservationists, and representatives of various conservation organisations and development agencies working on snow leopard conservation came together in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from August 23 to 25. They discussed appropriate measures to secure a better future for the elusive snow leopards also famously referred to as the ‘Ghost of the mountains.’

Addressing the International Snow Leopard conference in Bishkek last week, Prakash Mathema, Nepal’s Forest Secretary said, the second steering committee meeting of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme (GSLEP) held in Kathmandu this January paved the way for the international snow leopard conference in Bishkek. The conference was attended by high-level delegations from all the 12 snow leopard range countries.

Bollywood star and Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza, handing over to President Atambayev’s office the 200,000 plus signatures collected online as part of the #SaveSnowLeopard campaign, in Bishkek on Aug. 25.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/ON

“By formulating the first climate integrated management plan for snow leopard conservation, Nepal shows its commitment towards protecting this species,” Mathema told the audience at Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev’s residence, where the main day of the event was hosted.  The management plan is a blueprint of the ambitious undertaking by range countries to secure 20 snow leopard landscapes with a viable population by 2020.

Innovative approaches like livestock insurance schemes to compensate locals whose livestock are killed by snow leopards, have been instrumental in protecting them.

“Engagement of local communities in planning and implementing programmes is important to ensure sustainable management of snow leopards and their habitats,” Secretary Mathema shared. Besides focusing on research, long-term monitoring and strict punishment for illegal trade, range countries should also work on landscape-level conservation, he added.

“Snow leopards’ habitats share boundaries with more than one country so regional cooperation on transboundary landscapes has become more important,” Mathema said. It was a sentiment shared by all snow leopard range countries, and a theme development and conservation partners emphasised.

L-R: Maheshwar Dhakal and Prakash Mathema, Joint Secretary and Secretary of Nepal’s Forest Ministry, with Siddhanta Das, India’s Director General of Forests.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/ON

Delivering On The Declaration:

One of the key agendas of the Bishkek Declaration 2017 is to reaffirm the commitment of the 12 snow leopard range countries to “Secure at least 20 landscapes by 2020,” an original GSLEP goal.

Nepal has already become the first country to produce a plan to do just that. In fact, Nepal’s delegation leader, Forest Secretary Mathema, and Joint Secretary Maheshwar Dhakal, along with WWF’s Director General Marco Lambertini, and WWF Nepal’s Conservation Director Ghana Shyam Gurung, formally made Nepal’s landscape management plan public on August 24 in Bishkek. You can read about that in our August 23 post below.

Also on other points in the declaration, Nepal either appears to be on track or having minimum trouble during the course of implementation. You can read the entire Bishkek Declaration 2017 in our August 25 post below.

There are, however, two “concrete actions” outlined in the declaration that could be immensely challenging for Nepal. The country therefore, needs to pay special attention to them.

Point of Concern 1:

“Consider the feasibility of mainstreaming Smart Green Infrastructure in National public policy and call upon International Financial Institutions to create incentives for stimulating investments in green growth agenda.”

This is going to be a real challenge for Nepal, which is in many ways experiencing its own ‘infrastructure tsunami,’ that will continue into the foreseeable future. This infrastructure boom is not only going to affect snow leopard habitat and population, but will also impact all of Nepal’s ecology and public health.

Onward Nepal spoke to two experts on this in Bishkek and both reiterated: It is the government that must ensure infrastructure projects meet standards outlined before approving projects, including those defined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This has, however, been a long-standing challenge in Nepal where the EIA is often overlooked.

With established wildlife conservation projects in the country’s southern plains, the Chure conservation effort in the hills, and snow leopard project in the northern regions, Nepal has an opportunity to work towards truly transitioning to green infrastructure. The transition would be a boon for wildlife conservation as well as a much needed move towards improving quality of life and ecological services.

Point of Concern 2:

“Note the need for creation of national and regional wildlife crime databases and strengthen regional and bilateral wildlife enforcement networks to effectively share such information and tackle poaching and illegal wildlife trade.”

While Nepal is generally considered a good example in its fight against poachers, 2017 has given cause for worry. As Onward Nepal reported in-depth, a rhino was shot dead professionally, and its horn hacked and stolen this April, in Chitwan National Park.

In another recent Onward Nepal exclusive, we wrote about a case in which poachers told undercover officers they could kill a local elephant in Nepal if more ivory was needed. Kathmandu itself remains a hub for wildlife parts smuggling, particularly of pangolins and red pandas poached locally.

In June, when Onward Nepal visited the snow leopard habitat of Mustang, locals said those involved in the poaching of snow leopards or wildlife in the area were actually from other parts of the country, often from neighboring districts in the south. You can read more in Part I of our ongoing Snow Leopard series.

Although the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network’s Secretariat is in Nepal, the country remains a regional trafficking hub for wildlife parts. While Nepal and India do hold occasional meetings on wildlife smuggling, and arrests are made regularly enough, the border between the two nations remains the biggest port of entry and exit for traffickers. And while the Nepal-China border is quite strict, it is China where wildlife parts are being trafficked to via Nepal.

There are other challenges in dealing with wildlife crimes too. This July, Onward Nepal published an exclusive series on the case of Ian Baker, wanted in Nepal for wildlife parts possession since 2008. In June, Baker was detained in Greece on the basis of the Interpol Red Notice against him by Nepal. By August, Greece reviewed the documents sent by Nepal and did not find enough grounds to hand Baker over to Nepal.

Here in Nepal, concerned authorities appeared to be distracted by other matters, and this was not just during the Greece situation. Over the last 9 years, Nepal has lost several opportunities to work with other countries to arrest a person it continues to say is ‘Most Wanted’ in Nepal for a case related to wildlife parts.

Nepal’s snow leopard conservation efforts can fall victim to these pre-existing and re-emerging challenges, or it could leverage its conservation effort for better enforcement of the fight against wildlife crimes.

August 25:
Bishkek Declaration 2017

Participants of the International Snow Leopard And Ecosystem Forum gathered at the State Residence “Ala-Archa” this morning.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/ON

The International Snow Leopard And Ecosystem Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, concluded today with the 12 range countries expressing renewed commitment to and releasing the Bishkek Declaration 2017.

The countries had met in a closed-door session yesterday to finalise the declaration.  Today’s outcome is part of efforts that began in 2013 under the leadership of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, A. Atambaev. The Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GLSEP) was setup then to help the 12 snow leopard range countries meet the goals set in the original Bishkek Declaration. As in 2013, the events today took place at the State Residence “Ala-Archa.”

“The range countries will now take their commitments home and find ways to implement and build on it at a country-level in order to meet their goals set for the year 2020,” Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary, MoFSC, told Onward Nepal.

Nepal is also working on building a science and research center in Kanchenjunga with the aim to engage more young people in science and mountain ecology.

Read more about how Nepal emerged as a leader in GSLEP in our post from August 23 below.

Bollywood star Dia Mirza, and Nepal’s Forest Secretary Prakash Mathema, this morning in Bishkek. Mirza, who is a goodwill ambassador for snow leopard conservation efforts, delivered the keynote speech at the event.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha /ON

This year, a Green Investment Forum was also organised as part of the events. Nepali businessman Binod Chaudhary, pictured above, addressed the event during the Business and Industry session in the afternoon. Sulav Agrawal (FNCCI) Nepal was present at the event too.
Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/ON

The Full text of the Bishkek Declaration 2017:

Updates, details, and stories form the week’s events in Bishkek will follow soon.

August 23:
Nepal Leads Global Snow Leopard Conservation Plan Effort

L-R: Maheshwar Dhakal (Joint Secretary, Forest Ministry, Nepal), Prakash Mathema (Secretary, Forest Ministry), Marco Lambertini (Director General, WWF), and Ghana Shyam Gurung (Conservation Director, WWF Nepal) launching the Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Management Plan for Eastern Himalaya Landscape (EHL). Nepal is the first country from the 12 snow leopard range countries to do this.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
All Photos: Sudhir Bhandari /ON

Nepal has taken a major lead in its efforts to protect endangered snow leopards by becoming the first of 12 snow leopard range countries to formulate a landscape-based conservation management plan.

As the first day of the International Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Forum Science Symposium and Exposition came to a close, Nepal took centre stage. The Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Management Plan for Eastern Himalaya Landscape (EHL) was launched on Wednesday during the International Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Forum Science Symposium and Exposition – a part of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Program here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Nepal also launched a book on snow leopards called “Tracking The Ghost.”

The government prepared the ten year conservation plan (2017-2026) for snow leopards following a commitment made by snow leopard range countries in 2013, to secure 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020.

This is the first climate-smart landscape management plan for snow leopard conservation in the world, and is evidence of the Government of Nepal’s high-level commitment to this goal.

Prakash Mathema, Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MoFSC)

The EHL is spread over 11,516 square kilometres and comprises of four major snow leopard habitats in Nepal, namely Langtang, Gaurishankar, Sagarmatha and Kanchanjunga. The EHL plays an important role in conservation as it covers nearly 50 percent of the country’s snow leopard habitat.

“It is very important to improve connectivity among the major habitat complexes to safeguard the meta-population of snow leopards and ensure sustained conservation,” Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary, MoFSC, told Onward Nepal. Dhakal gave a presentation on the EHL at the event today.

We have led the snow leopard conservation at the global level by formulating this plan, and it is now important to lead through its effective implementation.

Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint-Secretary, MoFSC

Earlier this year, Nepal released two major policy-level documents including the National Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program and Snow Leopard Conservation Action Plan (2017-2021) to address growing conservation challenges.

The first GSLEP meeting of the 12 snow leopard range countries including Nepal held in 2013, had committed to establishing 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020 for ecology conservation with focus on the elusive wild cats.

Experts estimate there are 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards in the range countries with Nepal being home to at least 300 or more.

Nepal has set a strong precedent and paved the way for the ambitious goal set by the range countries to secure 20 snow leopard landscapes by 2020, to be achieved.

Ghana S. Gurung, Conservation Director, WWF Nepal