Wildlife across North Central Asia

Snow leopard. (Photo: Panthera)

is being driven to the margins of survival by huge increases in the numbers of cashmere goats being set loose on wild grazing lands.

Cashmere goats in Mongolia. (Photo: Juho Korhonen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The goat herds  — a dramatic three-fold increase over the last two decades – are eating up the grass that previously supported antelopes, wild asses, yaks, camels, and other native wildlife. Loss of these prey species in turn affects the survival of predators, such as snow leopards, Asiatic leopards, bears and wolves living on the brink of extinction.

A study

published in the journal Conservation Biology, shows that 95% of all the forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and northern India was consumed by goats, sheep and other livestock, leaving just 5% for wild animals. The study concludes that expansion of the goat herds is most likely causing the decline of eight core species.

Zero sum game

Pressed for food the big cats and wolves attack livestock and are killed in retaliation by herders or their dogs. With the increase in domestic animals also comes disease to which the wild species are extremely vulnerable.

Mixed herd of Pashmina, other goats and sheep in predator-proof corral, implemented through Snow Leopard Conservancy program in Ladakh, India. (Photo: Chinch Gryniewicz)

A solution

may lie in creating a sustainable market for cashmere. Giving rewards to goat herders who protect wildlife. Livestock farmers might be compensated for vaccinating their animals to limit the spread of disease, and for housing goats in protective enclosures. Cashmere sourced from these farmers could then be marketed as eco-friendly; a tactic that worked for the “dolphin safe” tuna fishery.

In Mongolia alone, numbers of domestic goats have grown from 5 million in 1990 to almost 14 million in 2010. Ninety percent of the world’s cashmere comes from China and Mongolia.