Founded in 1999 by Dr. Shafqat Hussain and registered under its current name in 2007, BWCDO utilizes a community-based management approach to conduct snow leopard (Panthera uncia) research and improve local benefits of conserving the species, which is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
While working for Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Dr. Shafqat Hussain realized that predation was an issue for agro-pastoralists in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The loss of just one livestock animal can be economically devastating for rural farmers, and despite the national law against harming snow leopards, farmers often retaliated. Dr. Hussain founded Project Snow Leopard in 1999 as a pilot project (later registered as BWCDO in 2007) to work with local communities to find a way to compensate them for their livestock loss, while also removing the incentive to retaliate against the snow leopard. This award-winning NGO was the first organization to implement livestock insurance schemes to protect the snow leopard in Pakistan.
BWCDO works with remote communities throughout Baltistan in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. Their work currently covers over 20 villages across six valleys: Basha, Braldu, Basho, Rondu, Thalay, and Hushe. The number of households per village ranges from 40 to 170 and is large without basic amenities such as electricity, telecommunication towers, proper road networks, hospitals, and schools. Additionally, the region is subject to harsh winters, with heavy snowfall and temperatures dropping to well below -40°C, further limiting access via road networks. Recently, BWCDO has also started working in Gojal Region in Upper Hunza.
For the most part, community members rely on livestock rearing as their primary source of income; though increasingly, they are moving to Skardu and other large cities in Pakistan in search of job opportunities. Their dependence on livestock rearing is also the primary cause of conflict against snow leopards, according to most major conservation organizations. Tourism is also an important source of income for many of these communities. After 2001, tourism in Pakistan came to a near halt; however, recently, with the improvements to the Karakoram Highway via CPEC, the country (especially it is Northern Areas) has become a popular tourist destination, and even local Pakistanis are traveling up North in record numbers.
Despite their commonality of circumstance and access, these communities make up a diverse collection of cultures and perspectives. The vast majority of people are Muslims of the Shia sect of Islam, though, throughout history, Buddhists and some paganistic religions have also passed through the region with various degrees of impact.