In a first, India to count snow leopards; process to start in September in Uttarakhand
Ranjan Mishra, additional principal chief conservator of forest for wildlife said that the forest department will start the estimation of snow leopard in September this year.Updated: Jul 26, 2020 23:17 IST
Delayed due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, Uttarakhand forest department is expected to start snow leopard estimation process with the help of camera traps from September this year. The move has been labelled as the first ever in the country by experts awaiting the exercise.
Ranjan Mishra, additional principal chief conservator of forest for wildlife confirmed the development that the forest department will start the estimation of snow leopard in order to understand the ecological factors pertaining to the large cat.
“The snow leopard estimation process as part of the national protocol was supposed to start a few months ago but due to nationwide lockdown, the process got delayed. We will now start the project in September and try to understand whether snow leopards are thriving in good numbers or not and how the ecology is where they are found,” said Mishra.
He added that the project is not restricted to the estimation but focuses on a holistic approach of understanding the ecosystem of the particular area where the elusive big cat is found.
“Snow leopard is at the apex position of the ecological pyramid. Along with estimation, we are also trying to look at the prey population and interference in the habitat by humans. Snow leopards are found in about 23% of the geographical area of the state which is about 13,000 sq km and for preliminary investigation, this area will be divided into 80 grids of 15 sq km each,” added Mishra.
He said that as part of the project, camera traps will be set up in grids where the movement of leopard is abundant, like a sample estimation survey, with the help of paramilitary staff and locals from the higher reaches and other information will be gathered from indirect signs like scat.
Mishra said that after the sample survey, a range of number of snow leopards found in the state will be released.
Last year in October, the first national protocol for snow leopard population assessment in five Himalayan states including Uttarakhand was released by the union environment ministry. The protocol is titled ‘Snow leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI).
S Sathyakumar, senior scientist at Wildlife Institute of India had then said this is the first-ever attempt to count snow leopards in the country.
Elaborating about the project, Sathyakumar said the project will be undertaken in two phases. “The first phase would be an occupancy survey while the second phase would be related to camera trapping of the elusive leopards in higher reaches and DNA analysis of scats”.
The project will be on the lines of the global project named ‘Population Assessment of World’s Snow leopards (PAWS)’ carried out by 12 countries where the highly rare animal is found.
The senior scientist had also pointed out that based on habitat quality and snow leopard density and estimates from different study areas in India, an estimate based on extrapolations has already been made.
According to this extrapolation, he said, “India may have about 516 snow leopards.” The current estimated distribution of snow leopards across Himalayan states is, 86 in Uttarakhand, 90 in Himachal Pradesh, 285 in Jammu and Kashmir, 13 for Sikkim and 42 in Arunachal Pradesh.
Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is facing many threats to its existence due to poaching and habitat destruction. It inhabits the Himalayas at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 metres