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Endangered snow leopard gets 'insurance'

Islamabad, Pakistan -- Endangered snow leopards in Pakistan are being protected by an innovative "insurance" program involving local villagers with goat herds, a researcher says.

Shafqat Hussain, an environmentalist and anthropology professor at Trinity College in the United States, says the villagers normally try to kill the leopards in retaliation for attacks on their goats, Inter Press Service reported Thursday.

Hussein's Project Snow Leopard, started in 1999, is funded by the Royal Geographic Society and the U.S.-based Snow Leopard Conservancy.

"I'm not totally indifferent to the loss the local community bears at the loss of their goats," Hussain says.

His alternative "insurance" plan, he says, "helps in the conservation and protection of the snow leopards, but also compensates the local herders for every goat killed by the feline, on the condition that the villagers will not kill it."

A snow leopard recently attacked a herd belonging to Ghulam Mehdi in a village Baltistan.

"They (Project Snow Leopard) paid me a compensation of 4,500 rupees ($52)," says Mehdi, a 35-year-old goat herder.

Mehdi says he has insured all his goats.

"We pay two rupees (2 cents) per month for each goat. The project registers our livestock and keeps count," he says. "They only compensate if the goat has been killed by a leopard, not by a wolf or another wild animal. They can tell which animal has attacked our goats."

The key to the success of the program, which has over 5,000 herders in it, is that the villagers own and run it, Hussain says. Residents have been trained to use and maintain remote cameras installed at various locations to monitor and study the snow leopard.

Project Snow Leopard has expanded to 10 Pakistani villages, and has been replicated in neighboring countries like Nepal, China and India, Inter Press Service said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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