The icy heights of Kumaon Himalayas have revealed for the first time the presence of the elusive snow leopard, one of the most endangered species on the planet.
Uttarakhand forest department officials said the camera trap photograph of the snow leopard was the first documented evidence of the presence of the species in Kumaon region though it is known to prowl the wilds elsewhere in the state.
Officials said the latest photograph provided irrefutable proof of the presence of at least 11 snow leopards in the state, one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the country straddling the Himalayas and the Gangetic plains.
The wilds of Kumaon are known mainly for their big cat population – both the Royal Bengal Tiger and leopards – documented vividly by British hunter-conservationist Jim Corbett.
“It’s the first photographic evidence of the snow leopard’s presence in Kumaon region. Through the evidence, forest department would be able to prepare better conservation strategy for this endangered species,” said Vipul Maurya, who is studying presence of snow leopards in the greater Himalayas.
He said the snow leopard was captured in Bageshwar district on June 29 at an altitude of 4,100 meters above sea level.
The earlier photographic evidence of snow leopard was found in the Gangotri National Park and Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve since 2010.
Both the national parks are located in the Garhwal hills while Bageshwar is in Kumaon region of the state. Officials said that since November 2014, a study is in progress in Sunnderdhunga valley of Bageshwar district.
According to Maurya, the Kumaon region is a potential hotspot of high altitude wildlife though not much is known about its bidodiversity. Early this year, a Tibetan wolf was photographed in the region.
According to official, the Gangotri and Nanda Devi reserves are potential breeding grounds of snow leopards, found only above altitude of 3000 metres.
“We have camera trapped only five individuals but there are more snow leopards in this region. The park is a potential breeding ground for the specie,” said Shravan Kumar, deputy director of GNP.
Classified as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List, Uttarakhand is among five states where snow leopard is found besides Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.