Shafqat Hussain has offered farmers in the remote reaches of northern Pakistan an alternative to killing the snow leopards preying on their herds, proving humans and big cats can coexist.
Shafqat Hussain trained as an economist and environmental anthropologist in the United States. When he returned home, he had a calling he could not ignore. For northern Pakistan is also home to the elusive snow leopard, one of the world’s endangered species. They roam high in the Himalayan mountains of Baltistan, where they often kill domestic goats. Concerned for their animals, local herders do not hesitate to kill them, rare or not.
Human beings and their livestock are as much a part of the environment as the snow leopard.
In 1998, with the idea of coexistence in mind, he created a low-cost insurance plan that compensates villagers for every goat – the mainstay of their economy – that is killed. This removes the need to kill the offending cat. Project Snow Leopard, and the willingness to challenge accepted ideas, such as banishing humans to save the snow leopard habitat, has won Hussain many admirers, and in 2006 a Rolex Award.
Local people have come to realize that one cat alive is worth more to them than several killed for the fur trade, helping them and protecting the snow leopard. This acceptance of mutual benefit has meant the project has grown rapidly. Hussain and his team now work in 16 villages across Baltistan, and the insurance scheme has been replicated in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and China.
Baltistan villagers involved in Hussain’s snow leopard initiative
Total snow leopard population across the Himalayas
Insurance premium paid by farmers, who were initially reluctant but were won over