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Behind snow leopard count, camera traps at 284 locations in 26,000sqkm

Based on these results from the sampled areas, the total population of snow leopards in the state was estimated to be 73.

Written by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon | Shimla |
February 5, 2021 8:19:11 pm
Snow Leopard, HimachalSnow leopards are tough to track because they inhabit remote and high-altitude regions of the Himalaya and are one of the most elusive cats in the world. (File)

The Trans-Himalayan region of Spiti valley, Pin valley, and Upper Kinnaur has the highest density of snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh, a recently completed assessment has found.

Out of the total 44 snow leopards directly detected through camera-trapping in 10 different sites in Himachal during the survey, 32 were found in this region, including nine each in Upper Spiti and Tabo, eight in Upper Kinnaur and six in the Pin valley, according to Dr Manvi Sharmi, the researcher from Nature Conservation Foundation who led the analysis for the project.

Other sites where the big cat was found were Chandra, Bhaga and Miyar in Lahaul; Bharmour in Chamba; Baspa in Kinnaur; and Kullu.

The three-year-long study was carried out across the entire potential snow leopard habitat in Himachal, in an area of more than 26,000 square kilometres which is nearly half the state’s total geographical area. “To conduct camera-trapping work at such a large scale, we first classified the snow leopard habitat as high, low and unknown based on information about the distribution of the animal. Based on this classification, we conducted camera trapping at 284 locations which represented not just the prime habitats but all types of snow leopard habitats,” said Sharma.

She said that the camera-trapping effort was led by eight local youth from Kibber village in Spiti who were supported by NCF researchers and staff of the state forest department.

Camera traps were set up for 60 days at each location, and they captured snow leopards on a total of 187 occasions. “The spots on the body of a snow leopard, called rosettes, form a pattern which is unique to each individual. The rosette patterns helped us identify a total of 44 unique snow leopards,” said Himachal chief conservator of forests (biodiversity) Anil Thakur.

Based on these results from the sampled areas, the total population of snow leopards in the state was estimated to be 73.

Dr Sharma said that the study also included the population assessment of snow leopard’s prey, ie blue sheep and ibex, using the double-observer or mark-recapture technique. “We found that prey densities were the highest in Spiti, Pin and Upper Kinnaur regions, suggesting that snow leopard densities are related to prey densities,” she said.

The three-year-long assessment was carried out by the Nature Conservation Foundation along with the state wildlife wing under the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate Change.

This is the first time that a robust scientific estimate of snow leopard population has been made anywhere in the country. Similar studies are underway in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh

Snow leopards are tough to track because they inhabit remote and high-altitude regions of the Himalaya and are one of the most elusive cats in the world. The home range of a single snow leopard may span several hundred square kilometres.

 

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