Prey clue to snow leopard habitat

In lambs, a whiff of elusive predator – Prey clue to snow leopard habitat

Posted by VoiceofSikkim on Aug 13, 2010
The Telegraph

Gangtok, Aug. 12: A two-year project in Sikkim has documented the habitat of snow leopards and their main prey, blue sheep and the Himalayan tahr. The predator is known to be elusive and the project’s aim was to collect evidence of its presence by tracking down its prey along the 4,200-sqkm trans-Himalayan corridors of East, West and North districts of Sikkim.

The project has been taken up jointly by The Mountain Institute India and Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation in consultation with the Sikkim forest department.

All the three high-altitude animals are highly endangered species and fall under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

“This project is an effort to document the snow leopard’s presence in Sikkim using indirect evidences, the occurrence of their main prey. We also are developing an understanding of resource use by the local communities to factor in their needs and possible role in conservation,” said Ghanashyam Sharma, TMI-India programme manager.

The project, which started on April 1, 2008, concluded on March 31, 2010.

Over the past two years, NCF and TMI-India officials toured the areas of Sikkim above 5,000 metres, documenting snow leopard presence and keeping track of habitats of blue sheep and Himalayan tahr.

“The project will help identify critical snow leopard areas that can form the basis for landscape level conservation in the Sikkim Himalayas. In particular, the information on wildlife, local resource use, threats and local governance mechanism generated by this project will greatly aid in the landscape identification and preparation of the Management Plan mandated by the Project Snow Leopard,” said TMI-India in its report.

The state forest department has already identified snow leopard habitat spread over West, North and East Sikkim. This includes West and North Kanchenjungha National Park, Lhonak Valley, Tso Lhamo-Lashar-Yumesamdong complex and Tembawa-Jelep La based on extensive work conducted earlier in 2001-02 in addition to collaborative work with other institutions.

The forest department and other agencies have collected 33 snow leopard evidences that include scat as well as sightings made by herders and villagers in the high altitude areas since 1980. A bulk of these evidence were from the Dzongri-Lampokri area in West Sikkim and Tsho Lamu-Laseher in North district. The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, had set up camera traps in 2009 and captured the photographs of two snow leopards.
A himal rakshak or honorary mountain guardian, Phupu Tshering Bhutia, had collected a fresh pug mark in Yambong in West Sikkim in 2009, the report said.
“We did not use high-tech gadgets and instead relied on information provided by the herders and physical evidence like scat,” said Suraj Subba, the research assistant for the project.

State wildlife officer Usha Lachungpa said the Union ministry for environment and forests had launched Project Snow Leopard in January 2009 covering Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. “We are currently drafting the funding proposal for the project that will strengthen conservation efforts,” she said.

Locals Fleecing Professional Blue Sheep Hunters, Nepal

Nepal: Professional hunters who come to hunt the blue sheep and Himalatan tahr in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, are forced to pay more than six-fold to local communities than their hunting fee set by the government. A hunter has to pay NPR 40,000 for a trophy blue sheep and Rs 20,000 for a Himalayan tahr to the government. Now they have to pay NPR 250,000 to locals otherwise they are not allowed to hunt desptie having a license.

March 29, 2010
The Himalayan Times

Thanks to Headlines Himalaya, March 22-31 (104), 2010 edition for the translation of this article.

GPS To Track Blue Sheep And Snow Leopard

Contributor: Voxy News Engine

Scientists hope to improve the survival odds of the endangered snow leopard in Nepal by venturing into the remote Himalayas to study its main prey, the Bharal or blue sheep.Project leader Nepali PhD student Achyut Aryal, who is enrolled at the Institute of Natural Sciences at the Albany campus, says it is the first use of global positioning satellite technology to track the Bharal, and the first use of the technology for conservation purposes in Nepal.Detailed information on population estimates and distribution for blue sheep and snow leopards is vital for conservation management, says Associate Professor Dianne Brunton, co-supervisor of the study and head of the Ecology and Conservation Group at the institute. She will travel to Nepal next year to carry out further observational field work and data collection, including snow leopard scat samples.Mr. Aryal and co-researcher Massey nutritional ecology professor David Raubenheimer are currently in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Nepal, performing the initial stages of the work. It took the men several days of travel by foot and on horseback to reach the study site near the Tibetan border.The initial study of the animals’ movements, grazing habits and population structure within a limited range will pave the way for the next phase of the study using GPS transmitters. These will allow researchers to track the movements of 10 sheep in different herds for two years continuously across the vast, inaccessible high altitude region on computer screens in New Zealand.“To date there has been little study of the home range, movement and habitat use of blue sheep in this region,” Mr. Aryal says. They resemble mountain goats with blue-tinged hair and curled horns and are preyed on by other high altitude species such as the brown bear as well as human trophy hunters.Lack of data is due to the extreme logistical difficulties of working at 3000m to 6500m altitudes with a climate characterised as cold desert, dominated by strong winds and high solar radiation, says Mr. Aryal. “However, this region is one of the last refuges for species such as snow leopards, brown bear, wolf, lynx and, importantly, their keystone prey species, the blue sheep.” Population estimates for the snow leopard worldwide are currently between 5000 and 10,000, with numbers declining due to being hunted for fur and as a trophy, killing by farmers because of its reputation as a livestock predator, and loss of food due to trophy hunting. “There is evidence that climate change is causing the blue sheep to come into frequent contact with local villages” says Professor Raubenheimer. “There they raid the precious crops, and also attract snow leopards into the vicinity of the livestock.”Satellite tracking has previously been used by Massey scientists in the study of godwits migrating from Alaska to New Zealand, and frogs. Dr Brunton hopes New Zealand school pupils will become involved in the snow leopard and blue sheep study next year by observing the movement of the satellite-tracked animals on classroom computers.