Livestock Vaccination and Snow Leopards
With an estimated 200-420 snow leopards, Pakistan ties India for the third largest population of this threatened cat and a national level assessment deemed the species Critically Endangered within the country. We are expanding a proven conservation model, our livestock vaccination program, into two valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan, the province with the highest concentration of snow leopards in the country. The aim of the program is to reduce the number of livestock lost to disease so herders are more tolerant of livestock predation by snow leopards. Surveys completed in 2010 identified Shimshal Valley and Khunjerab Valley as priorities. This area has one of the highest density snow leopard populations yet identified within the country and both valleys have relatively high rates of livestock depredation by snow leopards. For this project we are partnering with Gilgit-Baltistan Livestock and Wildlife Departments, and our intent is to initiate grassroots, community managed vaccination programs within each valley.
Community members known as Community Livestock Extension Workers (CLEWs) play a key role in the program. They administer vaccines as well as collect initial data from the communities during vaccination campaigns. The skill of the CLEWs as well as the community’s trust in them is important for the success of the program. In 2003, when we first piloted the vaccination program in Pakistan, CLEWs were provided a training of three days from a local veterinary doctor. However, in recent years, communities revealed that they were not comfortable with these CLEWs and feared these so called “half-doctors” would harm their livestock. Addressing this concern, we increased our trainings from 3 to 10 days.
Our new CLEWs are performing better, however a part of each community still has reservations. Further west in Pakistan, where the vaccination program has been running for five years in Chitral District, and communities have reached financial independence, we noticed a small decline in vaccinated animals in 2012. These communities unanimously relate this problem to the lack of well-trained vaccinators in their village. In these communities over 20 CLEWs were trained for three days, and many of them have stopped working. We fear that this same pattern could happen in Gilgit-Baltistan once our financial input in the program is phased out.
We hope for CLEWs to keep the program running even after our financial engagement is over, and communities assume full responsibility for vaccine payments. In order to secure this goal, we are planning an intensive CLEWs training from an established institution. After thorough review and consultations with institutes in Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad, we have selected the animal science institute at the National Agricultural Research Center, Islamabad, the leading institute in Pakistan with respect to its capacity, facilities and programs. They have an extension program where they design and conduct different levels of trainings for farmers from across the country and our colleagues there have helped develop a one month training module specifically for our CLEWs. Animal health is a core area in this training, but they will also address issues of livestock management, animal nutrition, and reproduction. We will also add lectures about conservation and training about how CLEWs should run the vaccination program and collect data according to our monitoring needs.