Snow leopard – Poster child of the Himalayas: Bhutan Climate Summit

Nov 18, 2011
Save snow leopards to save Himalayas

Saving its trans-Himalayan habitat is the first step to saving the species
Bhutan Climate Summit In the face of climate vulnerability in the Himalayan and trans-Himalayan regions, it is important to secure connected climate resilient habitat areas for the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) in the large conservation landscape.

In a presentation on snow leopard conservation and climate change, a conservation scientist of the world wildlife fund (WWF) in United States, Dr Eric Wikramanayake, said snow leopards are a large carnivore with large home ranges, and that an effective snow leopard conservation cannot be done in small fragmented patches. “They need large special areas.”

He also said snow leopards live in a relatively narrow band of alpine habitat, the broken rugged terrain between 3,000 and 4,500m above sea level.

Dr Eric Wikramanayake, speaking during the side event of the upcoming Bhutan Climate Summit, said that a study on the climate vulnerability of this iconic and mystical species in the Himalayas showed that the snow leopard is the top carnivore of the Himalayan mountains, and is actually a species that links three countries of India, Nepal and Bhutan.

“It’s global population, including the trans-Himalayan region and central Asia, is guesstimated at around 4,500 to 7,000 and they occur at a population density of 1 to 5 snow leopards in every 100 sq km, depending on habitat and prey availability, but they are killed and persecuted in all ranges,” he said.

Dr Eric Wikramanayake also said that, based on the biological attributes and threats, snow leopards are listed as endangered species in IUCN Red List of threatened species. “But now a new threat to snow leopard and its habitat looms and that is climate change.”

It is predicted that the temperatures in the Himalayas will increase by three degree Celsius by 2050, and by about 5 degree Celsius at the end of the century. Precipitation is also predicted to increase as the monsoonal rains become more intense, and even exert the influence all the way to the Tibetan plateau.

The conservation scientist said regionally as much of about 30 percent of the alpine habitats will be lost, but more importantly, there will be about 40 percent of habitat loss in Nepal and about 50 percent of loss in Bhutan and about 20 percent in India.

The warmer and wetter conditions are projected to cause flora from the lower elevations to move upslope and intrude into the alpine areas, which is the habitat of the snow leopard, and reduce the extend of available habitat, fragmenting them into small patches.

“As a top vibrant carnivore, with specialised habitat requirement, snow leopards can be considered as an umbrella species, further high Himalayan biodiversity as well as the indicator of the species changes that we expect to take place in these high Himalayan ecosystem,” Dr Eric Wikramanayake said.

Explaining a climate modeling of snow leopard habitat, he said, in the Himalayas, there will be loss of alpine habitat along the southern boundaries of the ecosystem, but there will also be significant intrusion of forests along the rivers that cut into the mountains, isolating and fragmenting the alpine habitat.

The conservation scientists also said it is a must to create a mechanism and forum for conservation and management of the alpine ecosystem. “We need to think about cascading impacts of ecological interactions and work with local communities for sustainable livestock grazing and medicinal plant collections,” Dr Eric Wikramanayake said.

He said that as some of the large mammals that live in the lower forest will also move upslope and begin to compete with snow leopard for resources and some, like in Bhutan, tigers will predate on snow leopards.

Dr Eric Wikramanayake also said there are also other concerns and implication beyond the snow leopard.

He said that people have been using these alpine grasslands for grazing and in recent years, livestock herds have grown considerably, resulting in depredation of physiologically sensitive high altitude grasslands.

“Even now, people hunt wild animals but in future, as resource competition increases in smaller spaces, the intensity of persecution of wild animals is likely to increase, as snow leopard will rely on domestic livestock and this will increase human-snow leopard conflict.”

The conservation scientist said that it is important to adopt these recommendations, as saving snow leopard is not about saving the species but saving Himalayas, saving the high altitudes ecosystem and reducing climate vulnerability of biodiversity, of people, and economies of the countries.

“It’s about sustaining the ecological processes and environmental flows, especially water that affects millions of people far down stream from the actual snow leopard habitat,” Dr Eric Wikramanayake said.

By Tashi Dema

Bhutan’s High Altitude Tigers

This photo is of historical value for being Bhutan’s first tiger picture in the wild in ThrumsingLa and at the highest elevation (3,000 m) so far reported for the Bengal tiger. Note primula in the foreground. These primrose Primula denticulata occur from temperate forest to an altitude of 4,500 m, suggesting tigers at higher altitudes in Bhutan.

In Bhutan Himalaya, tigers were recorded at 4,110 m during Yonzon’s study (2000). Perhaps, this is the only tiger photo ever taken at such Himalayan heights. Tigers in Bhutan have a wide vertical distribution because forests are contiguous. Dr. Pralad Yonzon, along with a four-member Bhutanese team has been successful in trapping tigers in their cameras in Bhutan on April 11, 2000. The Bhutanese team from ThrumshingLa National Park included Sangay Dorji, Kencho Gyeltshen, Hem Raj Mongar, and Dil Bahadur Gurung.

ThrumshingLa National Park occupies 768 km2 of mountain forest landscapes in the central part of Bhutan, where red pandas, capped langurs and rufous-necked hornbill including 276 species of birds occur. The Park is extremely rich in biodiversity and forms the centerpiece of the contiguous distribution of the tiger population in Bhutan. Therefore, it is an extremely important area for biodiversity conservation. Dr. Yonzon who has conducted wildlife surveys in ThrumshingLa National Park including the preparation of the park management plan, says that “pugmarks at 4,110 meters suggest that tigers use expansively high altitude pass to move into adjoining valleys.”

ThrumshingLa National Park and its neighboring areas are occupied by over 2,000 people who are primarily agrarian. Therefore, it has similar human dimension and conservation issues like elsewhere. Therefore, the park management seeks to reconcile nature conservation and community development through participatory planning and consensus building.

Yonzon, P. 2000. Status of Wildlife Conservation ThrumshingLa National Park, RGOB, Bhutan

Wild snow leopard cub caught on film by trap camera in Bhutan

A wild baby snow leopard has been caught on camera.

Filmed more than 4000m up in the highlands of Bhutan in the Himalayas, the baby leopard investigates a camera trap set by a BBC Natural history film crew.

The young snow leopard walks right up to the camera lens, sniffing it before off-screen walking into the bleak, rocky snow swept landscape.

Snow leopards are the highest living of all big cats, and are among the most rare and elusive of all animals.

Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Tuesday, 21 September 2010 18:28 UK

Sep 22, 2010 3:34 PM ET By OurAmazingPlanet Staff

Rare Glimpse of Wild Baby Snow Leopard

A wild baby snow leopard was caught on film dubiously inspecting a camera trap high in the Himalayas, providing what may be the first-ever footage of a snow leopard cub in the wild.

Filmed over 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) high in Bhutan’s mountains, the cute little critter walks right up to the camera trap set by a BBC Natural History film crew, inspects and sniffs the lens before disappearing back into the mountain landscape. [Video at BBC]

“No wonder hardly anyone sees snow leopards, they are just so well camouflaged. You could literally walk 4 meters past one and not notice,” said BBC wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who took the images.

Buchanan believes the cub’s mother had left it near or in front of the camera trap while she went off hunting.

“It is one of the most exquisite looking animals I have ever seen,” Buchanan told the BBC.

Snow leopards are the highest living of all big cats, and are among the most rare and elusive of all animals. Snow leopards live between 9,800 and 18,000 feet (3,000 and 5,500 meters) above sea level in the mountain ranges of Central Asia.

Snow leopards are among the world’s most endangered big cats, but due to their elusive nature their exact number is unknown. Estimates vary, suggesting that between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards survive in the wild.

The camera trap’s footage of the young snow leopard will be broadcast this week as part of the BBC One program “Lost Land of the Tiger.”

Next round in New Delhi: Gross National Happiness Seminar

GNH (Gross National Happiness) Seminar 14 March, 2010 – The first ever
seminar between Bhutan and India on GNH concluded on March 12, with
participants from both sides acknowledging the need for more discussion
and study for the development philosophy to be successfully implemented.

Dasho Karma Ura, the president for the centre for Bhutan studies (CBS),
said that the “rich dialogue” had “enriched” the understanding of GNH
for both Bhutanese and Indian participants. The seminar saw, what a CBS
press release described as, “influential minds in India” talking to
Bhutanese counterparts on various topics related to GNH. The Indian
delegation included young politicians, sociologists, environmentalists,
conservationists, and health activists.

“GNH offers potential that needs to be unlocked,” said Peter DeSouza,
director for the institute of advanced studies in India. He added that
GNH is relevant today, as it offered a framework within which the ideas
contained offered a counter discourse to the western development model.
“GNH shows how Bhutan thinks ahead of time, it’s an evolved state of
thinking, a brilliant concept,” said Koustubh Sharma (PhD), a regional
field biologist with snow leopard trust, the largest organisation
concerned with the conservation of the endangered snow leopard. He said
that India is now suffering the consequences of a fast paced development
policy based on the western model.

Koustubh Sharma said the dialogue on GNH showed that it did not exist to
hide Bhutan’s underdevelopment as skeptics might observe. But he added
that some aspects have to be addressed, such as ensuring minor details,
such as the needs of specific groups of people are not undermined, when
using only one value to express the people’s happiness and development.
“A pivotal issue is whether GNH offers an alternative framework for
evaluation of policy or a state imposed prescription,” said Akhil Sibal,
a lawyer. “I’m definitely convinced that GNH is really a more of a
useful prism through which to look at policy rather than a dogma to be
imposed.” He added, “It’s an ideal worth working towards, to apply not
only within Bhutan but abroad.”

“Ideas and ideologies keep evolving so it’s never sufficient, but for
now, yes,” said Latika Dikshit, a social development consultant on
whether the seminar had provided a thorough understanding of GNH. On
whether GNH is too Utopian, she said, “All dreams start off Utopian,
it’s the path that leads to it that has to be realistic.” Latika Dikshit
said she hoped she would be invited again for another dialogue on GNH.
Comments were also made that perhaps GNH needed to be modernised to
include younger generations.

Dasho Karma Ura said Bhutan could certainly do with more discourses on
GNH and that the dialogue would be continued in India in August this
year. He also added that more discussion on GNH is needed among
Bhutanese, particularly one that includes all three branches of the
government and private sector.

The seminar was jointly organised by CBS and Malvika Singh, the owner
and publisher of Seminar magazine in India.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

One snow leopard a year lost to poaching

 14 June, 2009 – At least one snow leopard has been killed by poachers every year since the enactment in 1995 of the forest, nature and conservation Act, which prohibits the killing of endangered wild animals in the country.

Records until 2007 with the nature conservation department (NCD) show that 193 wild animals were poached between 1992-2007. These include 15 snow leopards, five tigers, 61 musk deer, a porcupine and a python.

NCD officials said that, although tigers and snow leopards are endangered species, poaching and illegal trade poses a threat to these animals, even in protected areas. The high commercial value of certain species attracts poachers, according to conservation officials. Prominent species poached for commercial trade include tiger, musk deer, black bear and Chinese caterpillar (Cordyceps sinensis).

“Poachers mostly use guns and arrows or set traps, which have even snared humans and domestic animals,” said NCD’s chief forestry officer, Dr Sonam Wangyel Wang.

To protect these big cats, WWF and local wildlife authorities are working together to establish anti-poaching units and strengthen anti-poaching law enforcement. In addition to poaching, WWF and its partners are addressing human-wildlife conflict, by setting up a compensation fund for local farmers, whose livestock is often killed by tigers and leopards.

Around 26 percent of Bhutan’s land is under protected area, but poaching is encouraged by demand from other countries. Tigers are particularly threatened as its parts are used in many traditional East Asian medicinal disciplines. “There also exists a commercial demand for non-medicinal parts of the tiger, most notably the skin, teeth and claws,” said Dr Wang. “Besides poaching, human/wildlife conflicts also result in the killing of wild animals.”

Officials say that the protected areas do not have adequate human resources for enforcement, making it difficult to implement an effective anti-poaching strategy. Data, regarding the degree of poaching and killing, is also generally inadequate.

“If law enforcement isn’t strengthened and strict measures put in place to curb poaching, Bhutan may lose valuable species of wildlife within a short period of time,” he said, adding that officials in the field must be equipped well to combat poaching.

By Nima Wangdi

Tools that leave wildlife unbothered widen research horizons

By Jim Robbins New York Times

Posted: 03/10/2009 10:19:39 PM PDT

You may remember Sen. John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. You may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies. The answer is hair. The study, which McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park. The researchers did not trap the bears or shoot them with tranquilizers. Instead, they prepared 100 55-gallon drums with a mixture of whole fish and cattle blood that was allowed to ferment until it had the aroma of grizzly bear candy. They built 2,400 hair corrals — 100 feet of barbed wire around five or six trees — and placed the fish and blood mix in the center. When bears went under the wire to check it out, they left hair behind. The team collected 34,000 hair samples in 14 weeks this way. The population estimate from the study, announced late last year, was 765, a figure 2.5 times the estimate based on sightings of females and cubs, the previously used method. “Hair snaring has given us a much more precise number,” said Katherine Kendall, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who designed and implemented the study. The results were just published in The Journal of Wildlife Management. It also gives a glimpse of a growing trend in wildlife biology toward research methods that are gentler — and cheaper — than the classic “capture, mark, recapture.” In that process researchers trap an animal, sometimes drug it and fasten on a radio collar or implant or attach a transmitter. Then, they follow the radio signal or catch the animal again to see where it goes. Such tools are powerful. Some high-tech collars beam an animal’s whereabouts to a satellite every 20 or 30 minutes, giving researchers unparalleled data on movement and habitat. But the techniques can create animals that are either “trap happy” or “trap shy.” There is concern that contacts with humans can reduce an animal’s wildness or lead to its death. Some research shows that bears may suffer long-term impacts from being drugged. In national parks, visitors often complain when they see a wild wolf or bear with a large radio collar around its neck. As a result, new noninvasive techniques are evolving, some that use hair and others that use animal scat. Such methods can be useful in countries that lack access to expensive technology. “You don’t need a vet, you don’t need an airplane, you don’t need training,” said Megan Parker, assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s North America Program, based in Bozeman, Mont. In Bhutan, for example, biologists are gathering scat to study snow leopards, which are extraordinarily difficult to see, let alone trap. The problem is that there are a lot of different kinds of scat on the ground that cannot be differentiated visually. Out of 100 fecal samples gathered, often only two belong to a snow leopard. Lab testing to find those two samples is expensive. The scat is shipped to Bozeman, where Parker is training a dog, a Belgian Malinois named Pepin, to tell snow leopard scat from other kinds. Once Pepin’s sniff test weeds out the false samples, the right scat can be sent to a lab. Because of technological advances, a fragment of DNA found in scat can identify the species and sex of the animal that produced it. By collecting numerous samples across a territory, critical migration corridors can be identified as well as the abundance of a species. Stress hormones in the sample may be an indicator of the animal’s health. Diet and parasites can be assessed. “The genetic code is a mystery novel, a history book and a time log in a single hair,” said Michael Schwartz, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont. L. Scott Mills, a professor of wildlife population ecology who teaches the techniques at the University of Montana in Missoula, said noninvasive methods “opened the door for abundance and density estimates that are very hard to do with live trapping.” “We can sample so many more animals,” Mills said. “With live trapping you might trap three animals in two years. With scats we can find 15 or 30.” Another noninvasive technique involves the use of still and video cameras triggered by heat and motion. Kerry Foresman teaches in the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana in Missoula, which emphasizes noninvasive techniques. He studies the fisher, wolverine, lynx and pine marten, all secretive carnivores, leaving a remote camera trained on the hanging hindquarter of a deer. Tracking plates are another tool. Animals are lured by bait across soot-covered metal plates and onto contact paper. “They leave behind exquisite images of their track s,” Foresman said. The setup costs $12.

Bhutan Designated Their Second Largest Park

From Kuensel, Buhutan’s National Newspaper – Bhutan

15 December, 2008 – It was a tribute to the Wangchuck dynasty for a century of visionary leadership in conservation of Bhutan’s rich natural heritage. And for once, it was the only protected area comprising of all four national symbols-flower, animal, tree and bird.

Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley inaugurated the second largest protected area in the country, Wangchuck Centenary Park (WCP) in Nasiphel village of Choekhar gewog, Bumthang on December 12.

Covering about 3,736 km sq of north-central region of the country, WCP connected Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park in the west and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east.

Adding to its special features was also the park area being a source of Punatsangchu, Mangdechu, Kurichu, and Chamkharchu, the rivers, which would power hydropower projects.

Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley said that the declaration of WCP for the conservation of species and unique ecosystems in the country was a humble tribute to the Monarchs, who placed environmental conservation at the heart of development.

“Today we are adding another jewel to our existing network of protected areas,” he said.

The park was also expected to uplift local communities through community tourism and home-stays.

“The park has a huge potential to promote ecotourism in water related recreational sports such as boating, skiing, fishing and canoeing,” said an official from nature conservation division, adding that the famous Dhur tsachu (hot spring) located in the park would attract tourists.

Locals agree. Kuenga, 28, from Nasiphel village, the farthest village in the gewog, said the park had given them road. “Eco-tourism would benefit us even more,” she said.

Meanwhile the park is not short of challenges.

Chief forest officer, Sonam Wangyel Wang, said that with the institution of the new park management, they also had to look at the livelihood of about 10,000 people who are directly depended on park resources.

“The Park will not restrict people from using forest resources but ensure them to use it in a sustainable manner,” he said.

The zone was a host to about 242 species of plants belonging to 51 families, 23 species of mammals and 135 species of birds. Endangered mammals such as tigers, snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, Takin and Tibetan Wolf also inhabit the park.

By Tashi Dema