Islamabad-Pakistan: HRH The Princess Royal presented a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize to Dr Muhammad Ali Nawaz, at a ceremony on April 27, 2016 at the Royal Geographical Society, London, attended by over 550 guests including Sir David Attenborough. Ali, an educationist, researcher and conservationist from Pakistan, has been honoured for his efforts to protect the endangered snow leopard in the mountains of northern Pakistan.
Based at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Ali has established snow leopard program in Pakistan, which is a unique research and conservation initiative in the country. The snow leopard program is a partnership initiative between the Snow Leopard Foundation, Federal Ministry of Climate Change, provincial Wildlife Departments, and local communities. Snow leopards are considered critically endangered in Pakistan where Ali is working in the Himalaya-Karakoram-Pamir-Hindukush mountain complex to conserve the species. Threatened by poaching, habitat degradation and subsequent decline of natural prey, snow leopards are sometimes killed by herders in retaliation to livestock predation. This loss to herders’ livelihoods can be the equivalent of a month’s salary, but through scientific research and introduction of innovative measures that buffer against livestock losses and increase tolerance, Ali is reducing human-wildlife conflict. Besides this, the snow leopard program has generated unprecedented scientific information on the unique ecosystem of this mountain complex, through state of the art research tools. The program is nurturing young ecologists to build country’s capacity in field research and prepare next-generation conservationists.
With his Whitley Award Ali will bring together people, NGOs and government in a unified effort to develop a multi-stakeholder strategy for 25,000 km2 of this mountainous habitat. This will be Pakistan’s first landscape-level strategy for snow leopard conservation and will be used as a model to guide future conservation planning in the country. The project will train 50 wildlife managers, whilst engaging with 6,000 herders to enable the co-existence of communities and carnivores. Ali’s work represents one of the first steps towards the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme’s (GSLEP) goal to secure 23 important snow leopard habitats by 2020.