718 snow leopards in India, most in Ladakh, says study | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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718 snow leopards in India, most in Ladakh, says study

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Jan 31, 2024 06:00 AM IST

Environment minister, Bhupender Yadav released the report , Status of Snow Leopards in India during the National Board for Wildlife meet held in Delhi.

There are around 718 snow leopards in the country, the first ever population estimation exercise of the vulnerable species by the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Program has found.

During the assessment conducted from 2019 to 2023, a total of 241 unique snow leopards were photographed (HT)
During the assessment conducted from 2019 to 2023, a total of 241 unique snow leopards were photographed (HT)

Union environment minister, Bhupender Yadav released the report , Status of Snow Leopards in India during the National Board for Wildlife meeting held in Delhi on Tuesday.

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During the assessment conducted from 2019 to 2023, a total of 241 unique snow leopards were photographed. Based on the analysis, Ladakh has the highest estimated population of the animal (477) followed by Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9).

According to the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India there are 718 snow leopards in India, mostly in Ladakh,
According to the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India there are 718 snow leopards in India, mostly in Ladakh,

The study covered approximately 120,000 sq km of snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region, including Ladakh, J & K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh; surveyed 13,450 km of trails ; and deployed camera traps at 1,971 locations for 180,000 trap nights (each night a single camera is active). According to the environment ministry, the study estimated the presence of Snow Leopards in 100,841 sq km and recorded its presence in 93,392 sq km.

The estimation of snow leopard population is important because of the species’ role as an apex predator in the Himalayan ecosystem. As an apex predator, it exerts top down regulation of prey populations, thereby influencing the ecological equilibrium of its habitat.

READ | Kishtwar National Park, Padder emerge as key habitat of snow leopard

The snow leopard is designated in the ‘vulnerable’ category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It faces multiple threats including overgrazing, human wildlife conflict, poaching, free-ranging dogs, habitat degradation, and climate change impacts.

The species is found in 12 countries, Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and its global population is estimated at 3020 to 5390 , according to the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program.

The report also mentions the need for establishing a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at Wildlife Institute of India, with primary focus on long-term population monitoring, supported by well-structured study designs and field surveys. “Consistent monitoring is essential to ensuring Snow Leopards’ long-term survival. For the same, states and UTs can consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach (every 4th year) in the snow leopard range. These regular assessments will offer valuable insights for identifying challenges, addressing threats, and formulating effective conservation strategies,” the ministry added.

Snow leopards are high-altitude rock specialists and have been recorded in high rocky areas, alpine meadows, alpine steppe shrub, and high altitude forests. They generally live above the tree line at elevations of 2,700-5,000 m.During winter, the snow leopard may descend to lower elevations, but in summer moves back up mountains to the steepest and most remote terrain accoding to the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program .

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is the National Coordinator for this exercise that was carried out with support the support of all snow leopard range states, the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and WWF-India.

“Preserving the snow leopard population in India demands a comprehensive strategy. This includes safeguarding and rejuvenating crucial high-altitude habitats, collaborating with local communities in conservation initiatives and ensuring that they benefit from conservation, enforcing strong anti-poaching measures, and addressing human-wildlife conflicts. In addition, applied research, policy advocacy, and addressing climate change impacts are essential to sustain snow leopards in the long run. Fortunately, most of these aspects are well covered in the National Snow Leopard Conservation Plan of the Government of India (GOI). Ensuring its diligent implementation is vital to protect both the snow leopards, their high Himalayan habitat and the future of people inhabiting this region,” said Rishi Kumar Sharma, head, Himalayas Conservation Program, WWF-India.

“This is a very exciting development where India joins other snow leopard range countries in estimating their snow leopard populations using scientifically robust methods as outlined under the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program’s (GSLEP) Population Assessment of the World’s Snow leopards (PAWS) initiative. There are certain constraints and caveats that have been identified by the authors in setting up cameras a certain way that could have affected the researchers’ ability to individually identify snow leopards, and those can be addressed in subsequent surveys. In all, it is a commendable effort where the Government of India, governments of all States and UTs where snow leopards are distributed, and NGOs and Universities have come together to estimate snow leopard population using a unified methodology. O countries that have published their PAWS compliant surveys already include Mongolia, Bhutan, and a couple of provinces in China,” said Koustubh Sharma, director, Science and Conservation, International Snow Leopard Trust and international coordinator of GSLEP.

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