Snow Leopards, goats and mountain shepherds
How does vaccinating a goat keep a snow leopard happy?
A strange question perhaps, but making connections and understanding impacts is all part of One Health approach. One Health considers humans, animals and the environment as intimately connected. Changes in one can have major and sometimes unforeseen impacts in another.
The rugged Pamir mountains of Tajikistan is a precious habitat for iconic wildlife like snow leopards, gray wolves and Ibex. It is also home to mountain communities whose livelihoods are linked to the land through cropping and livestock rearing. There is often competition between wildlife and livestock for limited grazing resources.
Farmers often try to offset the poor livestock productivity by increasing livestock numbers, adding further pressure to grazing areas. During the Tajikistan civil war of the 1990s, mountain communities hunted wildlife to save themselves from starvation, this impacted the prey available to apex predators like snow leopards and sometimes led to predators attacking domestic livestock. Since domestic livestock can harbour diseases that threaten human health , including Malta Fever (brucellosis) and Q Fever, their introduction into the food chain can potentially co-infect wild herbivores. Controlling these diseases traditionally involves livestock vaccination or culling programs, but their success is undermined by herd breeding dynamics and other management factors. Unsustainable or unproductive livestock keeping threatens household health, and the fragile environments in which these communities live.
A team from the Nossal institute, Tajik Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Cornell University used a One health approach to work with local communities to identify and prioritise ways to make livestock production more sustainable, while supporting habitat perseveration and wildlife conservation. The team engaged extensively with the local communities to better understand local farming practices. They identified key constraints to livestock productivity, such as poor management of young stock and weak connections between farmers, traders and animal health service providers.
Tackling complex ecosystem problems with multiple, and conflicting, objectives is not an easy task. Using the multi-disciplinary One health approach, the research team were able to understand the competing demands and identify solutions to maintain healthy ecosystems allowing livestock, wildlife, and people to thrive together.
How does vaccinating a goat keep a snow leopard happy? The One Health approach showed by improving livestock productivity, through use of technology’s like vaccines or better management, the livelihoods of local farmers can be maintained with fewer animals. Using less precious grazing areas for livestock allowed the Snow leopard and its prey species to continue living “happily” in the area.
The next stage of the project will look at adoption of interventions that can increase livestock productivity and reduce that pressure on the limited natural resources of the Pamir mountains.
Tajik Academy of Agricultural Sciences