Wildlife & Biodiversity

Zoonotic pathogens threaten humans, snow leopards in High Asia: Policy brief

Strengthen disease research and management and integrate them with wildlife conservation efforts, says brief

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 29 October 2021
A snow leopard. Photo: Behzad Larry
A snow leopard. Photo: Behzad Larry A snow leopard. Photo: Behzad Larry

The remote mountains of inner Asia could witness future pandemics which could threaten both humans as well as non-human species such as snow leopards, a new policy brief has said.

Globalisation — including unprecedented levels of movement of people and goods between high mountains and low-lying regions — climate warming, environmental degradation and wildlife trade were conspiring to significantly intensify the risk of disease outbreaks in Asia’s great mountains, lead author Charu Mishra said in a statement.

Strengthening disease research and management and integrating them with wildlife conservation efforts was essential for the well-being of the region’s people, livestock, wildlife and for human health across the planet, Mishra added.

The brief was released at the 2021 Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) Steering Committee Meeting. It is being held from October 21-November 1, 2021.

GSLEP is an inter-governmental alliance that was established to promote the conservation of snow leopards and their mountain ecosystems in 2013.

Matthew Low of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, who is co-author of the brief, said:

Our review shows that a significant diversity of potentially dangerous and zoonotic pathogens already exist in Asia’s high mountain regions. It is critical that disease research and surveillance is intensified in this region, particularly for diseases of serious concern that spread between wildlife, livestock and people.

Koustubh Sharma, international coordinator of GSLEP, said the various issues underlined in the brief could not be looked at in isolation.

“To keep people healthy, we must keep our environment, our wildlife and local economies healthy,” he said.

The policy brief gave a series of recommendations to governments for monitoring and mitigating the risk of disease emergence in snow leopard landscapes.

It called for intensifying disease surveillance and research to build robust health systems and sustainable economies. It also urged knowledge exchange among snow leopard range countries, which, it said was critical for the long-term health of wildlife and local people.

National efforts and intergovernmental cooperation on disease management must be prioritised to strengthen conservation efforts and improve both human and wildlife health, it added. 

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