The endangered snow leopard is found throughout major mountain ranges of Central Asia, including the remote Himalayas. However, because of their elusive behavior, sparse distribution, and poor access to their habitat, there is a lack of reliable information on their population status and demography, particularly in Nepal. Therefore, we utilized noninvasive genetic techniques to conduct a preliminary snow leopard survey in two protected areas of Nepal.
A total of 71 putative snow leopard scats were collected and analyzed from two different areas; Shey Phoksundo National Park (SPNP) in the west and Kangchanjunga Conservation Area (KCA) in the east. Nineteen (27%) scats were genetically identified as snow leopards, and 10 (53%) of these were successfully genotyped at 6 microsatellite loci. Two samples showed identical genotype profiles indicating a total of 9 individual snow leopards. Four individual snow leopards were identified in SPNP (1 male and 3 females) and five (2 males and 3 females) in KCA.
We were able to confirm the occurrence of snow leopards in both study areas and determine the minimum number present. This information can be used to design more in-depth population surveys that will enable estimation of snow leopard population abundance at these sites.