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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Himachal home to 73 snow leopards, finds survey

Snow leopard density in the state ranges from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 square kilometres, with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities.

By: Express News Service | Shimla |
January 22, 2021 10:45:59 pm
snow leopardsSnow leopards live in several Himalayan states of India, but a scientific estimate of their population has never been made before anywhere in the country because snow leopards live in remote, high-altitude regions and are elusive by nature. (Source: Nazir Baig/wikimedia commons)

Himachal Pradesh has an estimated population of 73 snow leopards, a first-of-its-kind assessment has found. Snow leopards live in several Himalayan states of India, but a scientific estimate of their population has never been made before anywhere in the country because snow leopards live in remote, high-altitude regions and are elusive by nature.

In Himachal, the survey to assess the snow leopard population was held over three years by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru, following the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India protocols set by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. A similar assessment is underway in several other states/UT including Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, with Himachal now becoming the first state to complete it.

The exercise revealed that snow leopard density in the state ranges from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 square kilometres, with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both the predator and its prey (mainly ibex and blue sheep), state Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania said.

He said that this study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 square kilometres, utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight young persons from Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of the forest department were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang and Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats, Pathania said.

He said that it is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the state. “Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside the protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes,” he said.

“The assessment will serve as a robust baseline for the wildlife wing for long-term monitoring of the snow leopard landscape,” he added.

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