Snow Leopard Ecosystems & Emerging Infectious Diseases

The COVID-19 pandemic is a truly global tragedy of immense proportions that reminds us how intricately we are all connected. It’s also a critical reminder of the close relationship between human well being and the health of our species and ecosystems. 

The home of snow leopards in the high mountains of Asia is generally considered a low-risk region for disease outbreaks because of the cold, arid environment and relatively low human population. However, these mountains are not removed from the global pandemic nor the risk of future outbreaks. 

Snow Leopard Trust scientists examined the prevalence of diseases in snow leopards and other wildlife, and found that the area hosts a number of infectious diseases that could become a serious threat to wildlife and livestock. Many of these diseases are also zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted to humans. Rapid socio-ecological changes, such as environmental degradation, climate change, and increasing globalization, augment the risk of infectious disease transmission.

Nomadic herders often live in gers in close proximity to their livestock and surrounding wildlife. Photo by SLCF Mongolia/ Snow Leopard Trust

People in snow leopard range live in close proximity to livestock and wildlife, as livestock herding and small-scale agriculture are common ways of life. Because of the remoteness and low population density of these regions, healthcare and wildlife monitoring systems are scarce. This poses challenges for the well being of local communities and wildlife conservation efforts. Therefore, the development of long-term disease surveillance in wildlife and the prioritization of healthcare are vital to protecting local communities and wildlife populations. 

In snow leopard habitat across the globe, people and livestock share pastures and water sources. Photo by SLCF Mongolia/ Snow Leopard Trust

Establishing sustainable land use practices; disrupting poaching and limiting consumption and trade of wildlife; and planning for green infrastructure and economic development are needed to reduce these disease risks. In the post-COVID 19 world, public health can no longer be viewed in isolation and must be integrated with conservation efforts and transboundary cooperation. The Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), a joint initiative of all snow leopard range countries, can play a pivotal role in prioritizing human and wildlife health issues and addressing these various needs.

Snow leopard range country leaders, non-governmental organizations, scientists, and community members gather for a GSLEP Forum. Photo by Snow Leopard Trust

We need your help to call on leaders from the snow leopard range countries to minimize disease transmission between wildlife and people. We are asking the twelve snow leopard nations of the world to significantly strengthen conservation and disease research efforts and change the trajectory of economic development in Asia’s great mountains to make it environmentally sustainable and inclusive of local mountain communities. Please join us in these efforts to save humanity and protect the magnificent mountain biodiversity on our planet. Make a difference— sign and share the petition to Environment Ministers

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