The Uttarakhand forest department has found evidence of the presence of snow leopards in six valleys during a survey conducted to study the population of the endangered cat in the upper reaches of the hill state, an official said on Monday.
The 15-day survey in June 2015 — the first in the state to map the population of the high-altitude species — was conducted in 16 valleys and evidences of its presence we r e found i n six, said Digvijay Singh Khati, Uttarakhand chief wildlife warden.
The snow leopard, found at an altitude of 3,000m, is a Schedule I animal under Wildlife Protection Act of India and is listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Uttarakhand is among the five states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, where snow leopards have been sighted. Their presence has been earlier recorded on camera traps in Gangotri and Nanda Devi.
“However, this is the first time that we have found evidence of their presence in six of the 16 valleys where the survey was conducted,” Khati told HT.
“Thirty-nine pieces of evidences, including dropping and scats, were found,” he said. They will be sent for DNA analysis to find out the numbers of snow leopards in the region.
“With the findings, we are hopeful the state will now be covered under the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme that includes 12 range countries, where the elusive big cats are found,” Khati said. “Through this project, we would be able to do better habitat management of the species.”
In 2013, 12 snow leopard range countries, including India, Russia, Afghanistan, China, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, signed the ambitious “Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme” in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Conservationists say the numbers of snow leopards have decreased over the years due to the receding snowline and poaching in the hill state. The lack of a population map of the animals in Uttarakhand had created a hurdle for the state’s inclusion in the Project Snow Leopard launched by the Union ministry of environment, forest, and climate change in 2009. Under this, states had to identify the animal’s habitats and draft management plans.
The Centre, under the project, provides funds for research, including the use of camera traps and satellite collaring, to collect more data on the elusive big cat.
Snow leopards prefer steep rugged habitat with broken terrains, cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines.
According to WWF India, there could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild with only around 500 in India — and their numbers are continuing to fall.