Climate change could push snow leopards over the edge

TORONTO, Oct. 23, 2015 /CNW/ - Urgent international action on climate change is essential to save the snow leopard and conserve its fragile mountain habitats that provide water to hundreds of millions of people across Asia, according to a new WWF report.

Launched on International Snow Leopard Day, the report; Fragile Connections: Snow leopards, people, water and the global climate, reveals that more than a third of the endangered snow leopards' habitat could be disrupted by climate change. Warmer temperatures could see the tree line shifting up the mountains and farmers planting crops and moving grazing livestock to higher altitudes, adding pressure to the remaining snow leopards. Climate change could drastically alter the flow of water down from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of vast numbers of people across the continent.

The WWF report highlights that over 330 million people live within 10 km of rivers originating in high-altitude snow leopard territory, and those people directly depend on those waterways for their daily water supplies.

"This is yet another example of the undeniable impacts of climate change on habitats around the globe. We urgently need the world to agree to binding targets and pathways to a low-carbon future, otherwise this majestic species could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people," said David Miller, President and CEO, WWF-Canada. "We are glad the new Canadian government has said it will make action on climate change a priority."

There could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in Central Asia's high mountains – and their numbers continue to fall. Increased habitat loss and degradation, poaching and conflict with communities have contributed to a 20 per cent decline in the population in the past 16 years and left the species barely hanging on in many places. Unchecked, climate change will exacerbate these threats and could push the species over the edge.

Building on WWF's long history in snow leopard conservation, the organization will continue to fund vital research and conservation, including the use of camera traps and satellite collaring, to collect more data on the elusive big cat.

"The snow leopards, also called as "the ghosts of the mountains" are among the least known of the big cats," said Rinjan Shrestha, Lead Specialist, Asian big cats at WWF. "Conservation managers urgently need to know more about ecological requirements of these highly conservation dependent species in order to devise strategies to secure their future survival."

Read more about Dr. Rinjan Shrestha's research on blog.wwf.ca

Notes to Editor:
Media folder of photos and video http://bit.ly/1Geut63

Fragile Connections: Snow leopards, people, water and the global climate

World Wildlife Fund Canada: WWF-Canada is part of WWF (World Wildlife Fund), one of the world's largest and most respected conservation organizations. WWF-Canada has close to 50 years of experience implementing science-based knowledge and research into on-the-ground projects. WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive. Visit wwf.ca for more information.

SOURCE WWF-Canada

Image with caption: "(c) Klein & Hubert / WWF - Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) in winter (CNW Group/WWF-Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20151023_C5369_PHOTO_EN_527639.jpg

For further information: please contact: Tammy Thorne, Snr. Manager Communications, WWF-Canada, 416-347-1894

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