Of the caged snow leopard

Adnan Ullah Baig 

A snow leopard, also called the King of Mountains, is a large cat found in the mountains of Central and South Asia. It is one of the endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of ‘Threatened Species’. Snow leopard usually lives at an altitude of 12,000 to 18,000 feet and walks around an area of 250 kilometers. This big cat called Lovely was caught in December 2012, when she was hardly six months old.

The mother lost the injured cub after it failed to cross a river in the Khunjerab National Park, one of the world’s highest parks in Upper Hunza Gojal Gilgit-Baltistan situated between Pakistan and China near the Khunjerab Pass. A team of the wildlife department Gilgit Baltistan spotted the cub and shifted it to a rehabilitation center for treatment. The snow leopard was christened “Lolly”, which in the local Wakhi language means “Younger Brother”.

Lolly is not the King of mountains any more. The big cat has been deprived of the freedom it could have; it has been domesticated, eats dead chicken, lamb and mutton and beef supplied by the wildlife department and given to her by the caretaker rather than preying on ibexes and other wild animals.

There are many unanswered questions: Why Lolly was not released into the wild immediately after its treatment? Why it has been kept in the cage till now? Who is behind this entire story? Who is gonna compensate the four years Lovely has spent in the cage?

No wildlife organization, including WWF, has taken any action against the unexplained detention of the snow leopard. Not many animal rights activists are aware of its situation, otherwise they could start a global campaign to send Lolly back home.

Snow leopards are among the endangered species in Pakistan. Only 200 snow leopards are reportedly left in the country. These animals need to be conserved. Their presence in the ecosystem of an area is a must for a sustainable environment.

In July 2014 I visited the Khunjerab National Park and I saw this snow leopard in the cage near the check post of Khunjerab Security Force on the Karakoram Highway on the way to Khunjerav top. It seemed to be uncomfortable in the cage. In October 2015, I was on a tour to Khunjerab again and saw the leopard again.

Being a student of conservation I condemn the captivity of this snow leopard and I request the wildlife department and other wildlife organizations working in Gilgit-Baltistan to take serious action against this. I would suggest that the wildlife department rather than keeping the snow leopard in the cage release it immediately in to the wild. It’s release will help increase the number of snow leopards, because Lolly is female and capable of reproduction.

The contributor has an MSc degree in Mountain Conservation and Watershed Management from the University of the Punjab, Lahore.

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