Leopards in Pakistan: (Distribution, Population Threats, and Conservation)
There are almost 80% of Pakistan’s lands are arid and semi-arid, which are a rich source of biodiversity. Pakistan is unfortunately home to several endangered species.
Leopards are one of the largest predators of the ecosystem, and they actively participate in the preservation of the ecosystem by eating other animals.
Their job is to keep a check on the population of herbivores in the habitat, removing unhealthy individuals and preserving the habitat as a whole.
The balance of wild herbivore populations is important to the health of the forest as they are easily able to overgraze the forest, which may impact the regeneration and growth of the forest.
Therefore, diseases can be prevented from spreading, and, therefore, a healthy and strong wild animal population is maintained. In this article, we will discuss 2 important leopard species in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s provincial laws protect the common leopard and make hunting illegal. Tropical rainforests, including both rain forests and coniferous forests, are its natural habitat.
The mammals’ directory of Pakistan, historically, lists four subspecies of this big cat. However, it is often difficult to distinguish between the subspecies as they are so similar to one another.
In some areas of Balochistan, leopards are reported to occasionally be sighted, however, leopards are generally restricted to the northern parts of Pakistan.
Habitat of Common Leopards
The leopard is native to the Himalayan forests, in addition to the broken mountains of Baluchistan and Sind Kohistan. In Pakistan, leopards are found only in better-forested areas of the Himalayas, specifically in Galliat and NWFP.
Other places are rare to find leopards, as the cats have been hunted to close to extinction either as trophies or as pests by hunters. In addition, there are occasional reports about this animal coming from the desert areas of Punjab.
There is yet another conflict between leopards and villagers because nomads usually leave their livestock unattended in leopard habitats and they become angry when leopards hunt them; this is by far the most prominent conflict.
Forest pollution, habitat destruction, burning fuelwood, and unruly development pose the greatest threat to the common leopard population.
The leopard’s natural prey base has declined alarmingly, with increasing conflict between humans and leopards, with more cattle being depredated and retaliation killing occurring among livestock owners and communities.
Additionally, poaching, the taking of cubs by dealers, and the trade of body parts, especially pelts, pose serious threats.
It has been reported that the northern Pakistani market sells claws, teeth, and pelts. Forest cover covers only 2.5% of the habitat of the common leopard.
There are no other countries in Asia with more deforestation than Pakistan, which is 2.1%. Conservation of Common Leopards Since the 1970s, WWF has taken innovative steps to conserve common leopard species, address threats, and raise awareness.
Several projects have been launched to protect the common leopard. By using camera traps, genetic analysis, radio collars, and other interventions, extensive studies have been carried out on common leopard food habitats, home ranges, and populations.
Leopard killings have been dramatically reduced through the distribution of training, documentaries, video clips, brochures, and booklets to the local communities.
To reduce economic losses from common leopard attacks, local farmers are also covered by livestock insurance programs.
Snow leopards are not closely related to leopards, or members of the Pantherine family, although I believe they do share their name. The species belongs to the genus Uncia uncia and is thus the sole member of this group.
The underdeveloped fibro-elastic tissue prevents snow leopards from giving a deep, powerful roar, which in combination with their skulls makes them distinguishable from other ‘big cats’.
There are some striking differences between the snow leopard and the common leopard appearances. While it has similarly shaped and colored rosettes and broken spots, they are less well defined as well as more widely spaced.
There is a long and woolly fur on this cat, which allows it to defend itself from the extreme cold experienced in its generally mountainous habitat.
The ground color in general tends to be gray with a few brownish/yellow tinges on the flanks, while the belly, chest, and chin are adorned with lighter, sometimes white, fur.
The head, which has small ears and a prominent brow, is relatively small and rounded in comparison to the body, which can be as long as 1.3 meters and as heavy as 70 kg.
As the cat travels over rugged and often snowy terrain, the tail can grow up to 900 cm in length, helping it balance as it moves.
Snow leopards possess long, powerful limbs, but their body size isn’t large enough to support them and their limbs are held up by large, powerful paws.
Habitat of Snow Leopards in Pakistan
Although snow leopards are known to live in altitudes between 2000 and 4000 meters above sea level, in the Himalayan range they can reach a height of as high as 5500 meters.
In general, the snow leopard is typically found in generally rocky terrain, especially ridges and rocky outcrops that are located in the highlands.
Most of the snow leopard’s habitat is lowland forests, which are where its migrating prey hangs out during late summer and early winter, although it rarely occurs in dense stands of forest.
While this species is normally found in alpine pastures at higher altitudes up to 5100 meters in elevation, it descends to lower altitudes in the winter. Pakistan’s snow leopard population is estimated at between 100 and 200 individuals.
It is the winter season when snow leopards are most threatened by hunting, habitat loss, conflicts with humans, poaching, and climate change.
Human settlement and increased grazing pressure continue to reduce snow leopard habitat. One of the greatest threats facing them, in the long run, is climate change.
The Himalayan region alone could lose 30% of its snow leopard habitat as a result of climate change.
Snow leopard conservation remains a top priority for the Pakistani government and non-governmental organizations like the IUCN, WWF-P, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
In the past, large projects in northern Pakistan did not focus solely on snow leopard conservation, but contributed to increasing awareness and enhancing the animal’s habitat quality and prey base.
Through a partnership with WWF Pakistan and the KPK Wildlife Department, the SLT initiated a dedicated conservation program for snow leopards in the late 1990s.
In KPK, community-based conservation programs are being developed in the Chitral district, exploring the status of cats in Pakistan.
SLF was established in 2008 to ensure the conservation of Pakistan’s snow leopards. This was a breakthrough in this direction.
SLF has expanded its conservation program geographically and systematically through the implementation of its snow leopard conservation strategy.
The leopards and snow leopards are among the most important parts of Pakistan’s ecosystem, especially in terms of food supply and habitat. It plays a major role in maintaining balance within the populations of herbivores.
This, in turn, allows the forest to grow and maintain its size. However, the leopard population is declining due to the damage caused by deforestation and hunting, and climate change, which are all due to man-made causes.
Even though the government is taking part in preserving these big cats, there are still serious efforts that are required. To ensure that these species are in their ecosystem for a long time, it is of paramount importance to educate the local people.
Forest without prey: livestock sustain a leopard Panthera pardus population in Pakistan | Oryx | Cambridge Core
Assessment of human–leopard conflict in Machiara National Park, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan | SpringerLink
The status of the snow leopard in Pakistan and its conflict with local farmers | Oryx | Cambridge Core
Sustainability | Free Full-Text | Use of GIS and Remote Sensing Data to Understand the Impacts of Land Use/Land Cover Changes (LULCC) on Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) Habitat in Pakistan (mdpi.com)
Protecting the Snow Leopard and Enhancing Farmers’ Livelihoods (bioone.org)
Dr. Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and CEO at provets. He loves to treat animals and has great expertise in veterinary products. Our aim is to provide the best information related to your animal health.
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