The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a felid in the genus Panthera and is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. With an estimated 7,446–7,996 individuals remaining in the wild under the threat of habitat destruction, prey decline, retaliation killings, and poaching, it has been classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red list and is listed in CITES Appendix I. Snow leopards are top of the food chain and play an irreplaceable role in controlling the number of ungulates and maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. As such, their conservation is vitally important.
A recent snow leopard project led by Dr Cheng Chen has successfully achieved its three main objectives. First, Dr Cheng and the team identified key areas for snow leopard conservation in the Sanjiangyuan area using extensive field surveys and monitoring. These areas included the core habitat and potential corridors of the leopards, as well as habitats affected by climate change. Next, the team connected with and provided training for five local groups in the area, including conservation organisations, communities, and societies, to form a “Snow Leopard Conservation Network”, which will assist local partners in conducting long-term and effective monitoring of snow leopards. The team also promoted their research and snow leopard conservation through books and popular science articles. Last, the team used the research results to provide initial recommendations for targeted conservation plans, providing a basis for the further optimisation of snow leopard conservation in the area.
Off the back of this success, Dr Cheng is already looking ahead to future projects in order to continue the discussion over snow leopard conservation with the local government, experts, and community, and to expand the scope of research to snow leopard habitats outside of Sanjiangyuan.
Horseshoe Crab Population Survey
Horseshoe crab populations are known to be affected by human activity, including the destruction of their breeding and nursery grounds. Hence, better understanding the population and distribution of horseshoe crabs will help in the formulation of various conservation actions.
With this in mind, OPCFHK’s community education team has begun taking groups of secondary students to sites where horseshoe crabs live and forage to conduct regular population surveys. These surveys consist of recording data such as type of species and size of the crabs, as well as environmental factors such as temperature, salinity, and pH. OPCFHK has identified several intertidal habitats, including Pak Nai, Ha Pak Nai, Shui Hau, Tung Chung Bay, and Sha Tau Kok, which are crucial to Chinese horseshoe crabs and Mangrove horseshoe crabs before they head to the ocean in adulthood.
Through the community education programme, students not only develop important wild animal survey skills, they also get to help the public learn about the current horseshoe crab situation, including what is happening with its habitat. Since 2019, OPCFHK has expanded its training to a range of technical institutes in order to also engage students studying environmental science. Over 60 students have so far contributed to surveying the horseshoe crab population. In the past two years, OPCFHK has recorded nearly 250 horseshoe crabs across 10 surveys, among which, 30% were Chinese horseshoe crabs, while the rest were Mangrove horseshoe crabs.
From the results, we are able to determine crab distribution; for instance, Pak Nai is still the most important habitat for Chinese horseshoe crabs, while Sha Tau Kok is vital to Mangrove horseshoe crabs. With this data, an enhanced conservation policy for horseshoe crabs can be designed and implemented.
Although it is somewhat difficult walking across a mudflat searching for mud-coloured animals, students learn valuable scientific study skills and get to have fun in the process.
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