Shimla, Dec 29 (IANS) The third eye is monitoring the movement of the highly endangered, elusive snow leopard in the cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh. And one of the camera traps has thrown up useful footage – of a pack of dogs attacking and injuring a snow leopard.
With just about 750 snow leopards left in India, the Himachal Pradesh government is using cameras to monitor their movement in Spiti Valley, the state’s northernmost part, running parallel to the Tibetan border.
The state’s wildlife department, in coordination with Mysore-based non-governmental organisation Nature Conservation Foundation, has installed 20 camera traps (automatic cameras) in Spiti Valley.
One of the cameras captured shots of a pack of dogs attacking a snow leopard. The dogs were abandoned by the pastoral communities that migrate from alpine pastures in summer along with their livestock, chief wildlife warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.
‘From this video clip, we came to know that abandoned dogs are also a potential threat to the wild cat. However, in this case, the snow leopard managed to escape with minor injuries on its hind legs,’ Gulati said.
According to wildlife experts, the rise in the population of abandoned dogs might pose a threat to the snow leopards’ food chain.
‘The dogs usually attack in a pack and it’s easy for them to hunt even big mammals like the Himalayan blue sheep. This might reduce the prey base of the wild cat,’ an expert said.
The snow leopard, a graceful golden-eyed animal with thick fur, padded paws and a long tail, is found in rocky regions at an altitude from 2,700 to 6,000 metres (8,900 ft to 20,000 ft). Himachal has adopted it as its state animal.
Not only is the animal extremely elusive but its cold, inhospitable habitat means very little is known about it. Hence the need for technology.
‘Initially, 20 cameras have been installed in a 100 sq km area of Spiti to monitor the movement and behaviour of the snow leopards,’ Gulati told IANS.
Each camera costs around Rs.250,000 and is equipped with a sensor that shoots any movement of any animal in its vicinity. Each camera has a battery backup of 25 days.
‘Placing a camera is really a herculean task. One has to trudge miles of rugged, cold and inhospitable Himalayan terrain. We have to restrict even the movement of the humans as it might develop fear psychosis in the animal or spoil their habitat,’ he said.
The footages also captured some other animals like the Himalayan blue sheep and Asiatic ibex – a wild goat species. Both are important prey for the snow leopard.
He said footage indicated the presence of around 10 snow leopards, but nothing conclusive could be said in the study’s early stages.
‘Right now, we are not in a position to comment on the exact population of the wild cats in Spiti. But we can only say the area supports an impressive population,’ he said.
Apart from Spiti Valley, the wildlife wing also plans to install 20 camera traps in the Pin Valley National Park, the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, the Great Himalayan National Park and the Pangi and Bharmour areas of Chamba district, which has a sizeable population of the snow leopard.
Gulati said under the Project Snow Leopard, the state had sent a proposal to the central government to set up a snow leopard research institute in Spiti at a cost of Rs.5.5 crore. He said a major portion of the amount would be spent on improving the habitat of the animal.
The Himachal project is part of the central government’s Project Snow Leopard that was launched Jan 20, 2009, as part of efforts to conserve the globally endangered species.
The government had estimated the number of these wild cats to be around 750, but this is the first time an extensive study is being carried out to substantiate the figure.
The project is also operational in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh with support from the Wildlife Institute of India and the Nature Conservation Foundation.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)