On the lines of project tiger, a project to save another critically endangered cat specie; the snow leopard has been formally launched in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, which, for the first time, will focus on conservation beyond the 'national parks'.
With just 4000 animals in the world, Ladakh is home to about 400 such animals, which is over 60 per cent of the estimated 700 animals in the country.
"We have been allocated Rs 1.26 crores as funding for first year and will be starting work soon," said Jigmit Takpa, Conservator of forests and wildlife in the Ladakh region.
The project will cover an area of 3000 sq kms -entire Ladakh, Korakoram and Zanskar. However, areas in the upper reaches of Kashmir and Jammu like Dachigam, areas around Amarnath cave, Sonamarg and Pir Panjal, including Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu, will also come under the project.
The initiative is part of the 'project snow leopard', which was announced in Februay 2009 by the ministry of environment and forests. The project is a flagship project which will be treated at par with other projects like project tiger and project elephant. .
The ministry has decided to dedicate 3 percent of its total budget for integrated development of Wildlife habitats to the protection of this wildcat. The project covers an area of 75,000 sq kilometers extending in five Himalayan states-though major portion of the project area falls in Jammu and Kashmir. According to estimates 60 percent of the project area and 60 to 65 percent of the snow leopard population is in Jammu and Kashmir. 22 percent of the project area is in Himachal Pradesh and 11 percent in Uttranchal. Five percent is in Arunachal Pradesh. While funds have been released for only Jammu and Kashmir, funds for other states are likely to be released soon.
The total wild population of the snow leopard in the world is estimated at between 4,000 and 7,500 individuals. In 1972 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as "Endangered," the same classification given the panda and the tiger. ``The goal of Project Snow Leopard is to safeguard and conserve 's unique natural heritage of high altitude wildlife populations and their habitats by promoting conservation through participatory policies and actions. The main essence is that it won't just be a national park conservation effort but will go beyond the national parks and insist more on co-existance of man and animal,'' said Dr P R Sinha, Director Wildlife Institute of India,
The project unlike other wildlife projects stresses on participation and benefit of the local population. For facilitating effective planning and action, the project will set up enabling administrative mechanisms from the village and district level to the Central Government. "Not only do we provide alternatives of lifelihood to people in the area but also get them involved in the conservation efforts. Compensation for loss of animal and lifestock also forms an important component," said Takpa.
According to him, eco-tourism will also be part of the effort. "People visit Ladakh only to see the snow leopard. To cash on this aspect, the project has kept a provision for eco-tourism wherein the locals will host the tourists in their houses. This will serve dual purpose of promoting tourism and snow leopard conservation through community participation," he said.