People Centric Conservation In Action: Beekeping May Help Save The Snow Leopard

Wildlife conservation is difficult. In these posts we have shown that successes in one area can lead to challenges in another. India, for example, has had great success in increasing its tiger population. But that “tiger-centric” approach has come at the risk of harming other endangered species. People centric conservation is now attempting to redress the issue.

close up photography of leopard
Snow leopards superficially resemble leopards. They are more closely related to tigers as a good look at the facial structure shows. Photo by Adriaan Greyling on

Recently, several conservation groups have set out to change the dynamic. The call for the people centric conservation “ approach is growing. That approach tries to integrate the needs of the species being conserved with the needs of the people who live around it. Previously, conservation efforts were “top-down” mandates. Governments, prompted by conservationists, would impose regulations designed to protect species. This despite local needs, desires and customs.

Leopard's face closeup image
Leopards and snow leopards are about the smae size and both are spotted. But the leopard’s facial structure is different.

According to Yahoo a new project in Kyrgyzstan is helping to bring the “people-centric” approach into action. The goal is to encourage local people to shift away from herding and into beekeeping and other lucrative pursuits. It is hoped that will lower the competition between snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and locals. Currently, a big threat to the leopards is animal herding. Locals will kill the leopards to prevent them from killing stock.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous land-locked country in Central Asia. It borders China on the east and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The high Tian Shan and Pamir mountains are prime snow leopard country. Currently it is estimated that there are as many as 7,000 snow leopards living mostly in Asian mountains. The cats live in 12 Asian countries. They are found in Krygyzstan and surrounding countries including Afghanistan, Russia, India, and China. Interestingly, India is home to about half of the world’s 37 wildcat species. India is a leader in feline conservation.

close up photography of tiger
A tiger at ease. Showing its rounder facial structure, similar to the snow leopard.Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on

The extreme conditions tempt the leopards to supplement their diet of wild blue sheep and ibex with livestock which triggers competition and conflict.

Encouraging beekeeping, sale of traditional arts and crafts, ecotourism and other localized livelihoods is reducing competition between people and the cats.

Despite the name and the general appearance snow leopards are not true leopards. Current genetic research gives them a place on the feline genetic tree all their own. Their closest living relative is the tiger (Panthera tigris). Current knowledge suggests they diverged from a common ancestor about 2 million years ago.

photograph of an ibex with long horns
Ibex are among the largest of snow leopard prey. The cats will eats marmots and other small items too. Photo by Timo Niedermann on

Because of their low numbers over a great range they have attracted a great deal of conservation attention. China monitors its snow leopards and those in Tibet. The government says the population in Tibet is stable. Species Survival Programs exist for the cats. Up to 700 are living in accredited zoos across the world. Several of these zoos have recently welcomed the birth of cubs. Conservation groups including the Snow Leopard Conservancy and the Snow Leopard Trust work to preserve the cats.

One its website the conservancy describes its mission:

Ensuring Snow Leopard survival and conserving mountain landscapes by expanding environmental awareness and sharing innovative practices through community stewardship and partnerships.

The trust has a similar mission:

“The Snow Leopard Trust aims to protect this endangered cat through community-based conservation projects that are based on an improved scientific understanding of snow leopard behavior, needs, habitats and threats. “

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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