How Climate Change and COVID-19 are Colliding in Snow Leopard Landscapes

A new policy brief warns that pandemic frequency is likely to increase due to climate change, environmental degradation and globalization


Seattle, WA | October 26, 2021 

The COVID-19 pandemic and other disease outbreaks such as SARS and HIV-AIDS have shown how closely the health of humans is linked to the health of wildlife and domestic animals. A timely policy brief released at an event represented by 12 countries in the run-up to COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow, Scotland Oct. 31 – Nov. 12), provides an overview of the known pandemics throughout human history and highlights how their frequency is increasing due to climate change, environmental degradation and globalization. It details how, from an infectious disease perspective, even the high mountains of Asia inhabited by livestock rearing people and the magnificent snow leopard are no longer safe. 

The brief, released at the 2021 Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) Steering Committee Meeting (Oct. 21-Nov.1), stresses the need to link biodiversity conservation efforts with strengthening human, wildlife and domestic animal healthcare. GSLEP is an inter-governmental alliance that was established to promote the conservation of snow leopards and their mountain ecosystems in 2013. The activities of the program are overseen by a steering committee represented by Environment Ministers from each of the 12 snow-leopard range countries, and heads of international partner organizations.

The brief, based on a recently published scientific paper, was authored by an international team of scientists including ecologists, human and veterinary doctors, public health specialists and disease modelers from India, Sweden, and Australia. Lead author Dr. Charu Mishra, who heads the International Snow Leopard Trust, draws attention to the fast changing situation in the high mountains and plateaus of Asia that have been long considered relatively low-risk from a disease perspective. “Globalization, including unprecedented levels of movement of people and goods between high mountains and low lying regions, climate warming, environmental degradation and wildlife trade are conspiring to significantly intensify the risk of disease outbreaks in Asia’s great mountains. Strengthening disease research and management and integrating them with wildlife conservation efforts is essential for the well-being of the region’s people, livestock, wildlife, and, indeed for human health across the planet.”

Co-Author and wildlife epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Low of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science adds “Our review shows that a significant diversity of potentially dangerous and zoonotic pathogens already exist in Asia’s high mountain regions. It is critical that disease research and surveillance is intensified in this region, particularly for diseases of serious concern that spread between wildlife, livestock and people.”

“The convergence of the on-going pandemic, the surge of linear infrastructure development across Central and South Asia, the growing illegal demand for wildlife across the world, and the foreseen impacts of climate change make this brief incredibly valuable. We cannot look at these issues in isolation. To keep people healthy, we must keep our environment, our wildlife and local economies healthy.”, said  Dr. Koustubh Sharma, International Coordinator, Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP).

The policy brief provides a series of recommendations to governments for monitoring and mitigating the risk of disease emergence in snow leopard landscapes including intensifying disease surveillance and research to build robust health systems and sustainable economies. Early detection of disease outbreaks and knowledge exchange among snow leopard range countries is critical for the long-term health of wildlife and local people. Prioritizing national efforts and intergovernmental cooperation on disease management will strengthen conservation efforts and improve both human and wildlife health. 

Read the Strategy Document here: Policy Brief
The full paper can be accessed here: Increasing Risks for Emerging Infectious Diseases
Related stories: Human health and snow leopards: how are they related?

Koustubh Sharma, PhD
International Coordinator
Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program
Tel: +996 705 218 116
Whatsapp/Signal: +91 987 1144 991

About Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program:

The Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program is an intergovernmental alliance of snow leopard range countries and partner organizations to implement the Bishkek Declaration (2013 and 2017) to protect and recover snow leopard populations and their fragile habitats. The GSLEP Secretariat is hosted by the Kyrgyz Government, and technically and financially supported by the Snow Leopard Trust, United Nations Environment Program, Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Program. 

About Snow Leopard Trust:

Snow Leopard Trust, a 501c-3 Seattle-based non-profit organization, is the recognized world leader in snow leopard research and conservation with operations throughout Central and South Asia. As a technical and financial partner of the GSLEP Program, Snow Leopard Trust works to protect the threatened snow leopard and its mountain ecosystem through community-based conservation, rigorous science, conservation education and international cooperation.

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