Snow leopard, ghost of the mountains, is disappearing fast (photography tourism)

By Dharmendra Khandal Nov 02 2011

Snow leopard is the most mysterious of all big cats. This cat is found in the mountain ranges of south Asia and central Asia, mostly in the hill ranges of 3,000-5,500 metres high. It is said in India, the habitat of snow leopards is about 1,80,000 sq km; in comparison tiger is found in less than a lakh sq km area. Tiger conservationists often cite the number of rivers that originate in the tiger habitats as one of the reasons for saving tigers. But if seen volume-wise, the rivers starting from Himalayan region of our country , where the snow leopards live , have more water flowing.

In India, the snow leopard is found in five places: Jammu Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. India’s most talented and famed wildlife photographer, Dhritiman Mukherjee, has captured the most spectacular images of this extremely elusive animal when some local informed him that the animal had killed a yak. Before this, most of the images from India were of captive animals or animals captured in camera trap. India’s scientists have studied this animal but most of the work has been restricted to academic level contribution. Seeing this kind of animal may be a dream for most wildlife enthusiasts. But this experience is not like visiting the regular tiger parks, where one enjoys hot meals and clean rooms. To see a snow leopard, one has to endure a freezing cold environment with very little basic amenities at disposal. And it is not guaranteed that you get to see a snow leopard.

Ranthambhore based wildlife photographer Aditya Singh says that it may be tough to spot snow leopards but if efforts are made, we can increase the sighting chances. The cat regularly preys on the livestock of the residents living in its territory. If these people are contacted they can inform one about its presence. But one has to rush before the cat could get away with its prey. In return, the visitor needs to pay the local for yak that the animal had hunted.

Conservationists who don’t take to tourism and photography may dislike this method but for now, this is the key to conservation: The local who lost his livestock will now call a photographer, who compensates the loss — instead of a hunter to shoot the animal. The biggest snow leopard area is in Tibet, with about 70 per cent habitat. Sadly, Tibet is the biggest hub of illegal fur trade, which is the biggest threat to the cat. Not enough animals to prey on due to seasonal migration makes the snow leopard kill people’s livestock, leaving behind a clue of its presence and subsequent poaching. The IUCN in its red data book has listed the snow leopard as endangered.

It is important to increase the community’s involvement in its conservation. Efforts have to be multi channelled. For both Dhritiman and Aditya Singh, it was possible to take the magnificent images of the animals only with the help of the local communities, proving that the right approach with the local communities could lead to efficient solution to snow leopard poaching.

India has a fair record in wild cat protection, but much is desired

Roars, growls and Grunts: India has a fair record in wild cat protection, but much is desired

Author: Ravi Chellam

India is fortunate to have a diverse set of habitats, largely due to variations in terrain and climate. This is reflected in the tremendous diversity of wild plants and animals, including the large wild cats, probably the most charismatic group of animals. India has five extant species of large wild cats; Asiatic lion, Indian tiger, common leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard. We also had the Asiatic cheetah which went extinct in India around the time of Independence in 1947.

Wildlife conservation in India faces huge challenges that include a very large human population, an economy which is still largely biomass-based (at least in terms of the number of people whose livelihoods are linked to land and biomass), high levels of poverty, and fragmentation, degradation and destruction of habitats due to rapid land use changes largely driven by large-scale industrialisation and urbanisation. Despite these factors, India has actually fared quite well in conserving its large cats.

Could the current conservation status of wild cats have been better? Absolutely, especially because of the very high levels of tolerance for wild cats among communities which unfortunately has declined in the last decade or so; reasonably widespread public support for wildlife conservation and the high quality human resources we now possess in wildlife research and conservation.

Snow leopard:

Snow leopards have fortunately received some excellent research attention over the past 15 years and this has resulted in us having a much better understanding of their ecology. A very innovative conservation project has also been launched with very strong involvement of NGOs and this heralds a new conservation model, not restricted to protected areas.

Unfortunately, the inertia in the system and the lack of coordination between government agencies have slowed down the implementation of Project Snow Leopard. The key intervention for this species is to implement the excellent set of planned activities across their range in a collaborative manner involving local communities and NGOs.,1

India: Press information bureau update on activites to protect snow leopards

Ministry of Environment and Forests05-September, 2011 16:43 IST Extinction of Animals

As per the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 13 Critically Endangered species of birds in India. Among animals, 34 species have been identified in India as Critically Endangered in the class mammals, reptiles, fishes and amphibians. The details are at Annexure.

Steps taken by the Government to protect these species are as follows:

i) The Centrally Sponsored Scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’ has been modified in 2008-09 by including a new component namely ‘Recovery of Endangered Species’ and 16 species have been identified for recovery viz. Snow Leopard, Bustard (including Floricans), Dolphin, Hangul, Nilgiri Tahr, Marine Turtles, Dugong, Edible Nest Swiftlet, Asian Wild Buffalo, Nicobar Megapode, Manipur Brow-antlered Deer, Vultures, Malabar Civet, Indian Rhinoceros, Asiatic Lion, Swamp Deer and Jerdon’s Courser.

ii) Under the ‘Recovery of Endangered Species’ component of the Centrally Sponsored Scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’ Rs 377.7 lakhs for the recovery of endangered species viz. Hangul in Jammu and Kashmir, Snow Leopard in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand, Vulture in Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat was provided during 2008-09. During 2009-10, an amount of Rs 72.95 lakhs was provided for recovery of endangered species viz. Swiftlet in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Nilgiri Tahr in Taml Nadu, Sanghai Deer in Manipur and Snow Leopard in Arunachal Pradesh. During 2010-11, an amount of Rs. 184.052 lakh was provided for recovery of endangered species viz. Vulture in Punjab, Swiftlet in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Snow Leopard in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir and Hangul in Jammu and Kashmir.

iii) Legal protection has been provided to endangered wild animals and plants against hunting and commercial exploitation under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

iv) The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, has been amended and made more stringent. The punishment in cases of offences have been enhanced. The Act also provides for forfeiture of any equipment, vehicle or weapon that is used for committing wildlife offence.

v) Protected Areas, viz, National Parks, Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves all over the country covering the important habitats have been created as per the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to provide better protection to wildlife, including threatened species and their habitat.

vi) Financial and technical assistance is extended to the State Governments under various Centrally Sponsored Schemes, viz, ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’, ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ for providing better protection and conservation to wildlife.

vii) The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been empowered under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to apprehend and prosecute wildlife offenders.

viii) The State Governments have been requested to strengthen the field formations and intensify patrolling in and around the Protected Areas.

ix) The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been set up for control of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and its products.

x) Strict vigil is maintained through effective communication system.

Cat among the People: Snow leopard conservation in India

30 July 2011

Snow leopards share a particularly punishing habitat with people in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, with resources scarce and vegetation sparse. The conventional conservation model of separating wild animals and people simply does not work here. India’s green establishment is showing signs of accepting this reality, if only grudgingly

BY Jay Mazoomdaar
So you know they are called ‘ghosts of the mountain’. Rarely spotted (they are as good as camouflage artists ever get), never heard (the only one that ever roared was Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda, but then he was also nasty) and barely understood (few behavioural studies have been attempted), they exist in smaller numbers in India than even tigers.
But this is really not just about the most mysterious if not charismatic of all big cats—snow leopards.
What you probably do not know is that the cat’s natural habitat in India is a 180,000 sq km expanse—nearly the size of Karnataka—of Himalayan desert that spans the above-the-treeline reaches of five states: Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Cold and arid, this region is the source of most north Indian rivers.
And yet, such a vast and critical expanse has rarely drawn the attention of India’s conservation establishment. On paper, there exist more than two dozen Protected Areas (PAs)—sanctuaries and national parks—in this region, covering 32,000 sq km, a figure that equals the combined area of all tiger reserves put together. But in terms of funds, staff and management, these high-altitude PAs are mere markings on a map.
Things were worse in the early 1990s, when, as a young student of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Yash Veer Bhatnagar began studying snow leopards and their species of prey. With sundry forest departments struggling to fill up field staff vacancies in the best of India’s tiger reserves, snow leopards had little hope of being watched over in places far less hospitable to humans. But as Bhatnagar kept tracing the animal’s tracks along Spiti’s snow ridges, he grew increasingly restless thinking up a workable conservation strategy that was proving to be as elusive as the big cat itself.
Nearly two decades on, Dr Bhatnagar and his associates would help shape Project Snow Leopard, a species recovery programme with an innovative plan drafted in 2008 that could, with luck, save the species from extinction.
Dr Bhatnagar was not alone. His senior at the WII, Dr Raghu Chundawat, having studied wildlife in the cold deserts of J&K since the late 1980s, had already reported a startling fact: more than half his subjects in Ladakh, including snow leopards, were found outside the PAs. “There are a number of ecological factors behind this,” explains Dr Chundawat, “sparse resources, extreme climatic conditions, seasonal migration of prey species, etcetera, make the cat very mobile across large ranges.”
As for other efforts, in 1996, Dr Charudutt Mishra, another WII alumnus and a snow leopard expert himself, had set up the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) with a group of young biologists. It had some valuable field experience to offer, too.
It was Dr Chundawat’s work, however, that gave Project Snow Leopard its broad direction. “Raghu’s was a fantastic study and got us thinking: ‘If 80 per cent of Ladakh had wildlife value, how would securing a few PAs help conservation?’” recalls Dr Bhatnagar.
The question still stands. Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is significant in terms of snow leopard presence, for example, but notifying all of Spiti or Ladakh as a PA would not only be a logistical nightmare, given the difficulty in managing the existing PAs, but also defeat the purpose of conservation on at least two counts.
First, the experience in other snow leopard-range countries shows that merely declaring vast areas as PAs does not help. In Central Asia, for example, Tibet’s Changthang Wildlife Preserve extends over 500,000 sq km, but organised hunting remains a serious threat in most parts; the picture is not very different in Mongolia or Afghanistan.
Second, resources are extremely scarce at high altitudes; like the wildlife there, people must use every bit of land they can access at those Himalayan heights. The conventional model of PA-based conservation demands the securing of inviolate spaces for wildlife. But, in a cold desert, displacing people from existing PAs, leave alone notifying larger ones, amounts to threatening their survival. Besides, can anything justify evicting people from PAs if wildlife is seen to coexist with people in non-PA areas?
But ten years ago, coexistence was too radical an idea to explore for much of India’s conservation establishment.
In the absence of effective protection, what snow leopards once had going for them was a sparse local population in the upper reaches of the Himalayas (less than a person per sq km). In the past two decades or so, however, even those heights have been witness to ‘development’ in the form of roads, dam projects and the like. The most active government agency has been the military, busy defending the country’s borders, and, in the process, slicing and dicing the region with impenetrable fences and encampments. All this has also meant a labour influx, with whom indigenous populations (and their livestock) now compete for natural resources. This has meant overgrazing, and the competition for resources has led to a loss of wild prey for snow leopards. And with the big cats increasingly turning on livestock, they often face human retaliation. Organised poaching has been a reality even here.
Clear that exclusive sanctuaries for snow leopards were not a feasible idea, Bhatnagar and his colleagues focused on understanding the cat and engaging with villagers and the local forest staff to figure out a conservation solution.
In 2001, the NCF’s Mishra had done some groundwork in Spiti’s Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Human communities, he found, could be negotiated with to leave wildlife pastures untouched. To look after this area, a few villagers could be hired—picked by locals from among themselves. This model has been in operation in Spiti for several years now, and so far, over 15 sq km has been freed of livestock grazing around Kibber, and the population of bharals (blue sheep), staple prey for snow leopards, has almost trebled since.
Another coexistence success has been Ladakh’s 3,000 sq km Hemis National Park, which is home to around 100 families that live in 17 small villages within it. Their relocation was impossible without subjecting them to destitution, since all the other land of Ladakh was already occupied by either monasteries or local communities. Today, despite the human presence, Hemis has one of the country’s highest snow leopard densities. The park’s villagers, urged by the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT), an NGO, regulate livestock grazing in pastures used by small Tibetan argali (a prime prey species for snow leopards). According to Radhika Kothari of SLC-IT, this was achieved by the NGO in coordination with the forest department. They launched a sustained awareness drive and offered families incentives such as home-stay tourism and improved corrals for the protection of their livestock.
The basic strategy of engaging local communities remains simple: help protect livestock (by ensuring better herding methods, constructing corrals, offering vaccinations and so on), compensate for losses (via insurance, for example), create income opportunities (community tourism, handicrafts, etcetera), restore traditional values of tolerance towards wildlife, and promote ecological awareness. This story repeats itself in other range countries; livestock insurance and micro-credit schemes are big successes in Mongolia, handicraft in Kyrgyzstan, and livestock vaccination in Pakistan.
Encouraged by early success stories in engaging local communities in J&K and Himachal, the NCF backed a conservation model in the context of the three-decade-old Sloss debate (single large or several small, that is). “The idea of wildlife ‘islands’ surrounded by a ‘sea’ of people does not work in high-altitude areas, where wildlife presence is almost continuous,” explains Dr Bhatnagar, “Instead, communities can voluntarily secure many small patches of very high wildlife value—small cores or breeding grounds spanning 10–100 sq km each—if they have the incentive of escaping exclusionary laws across larger areas [big PAs].”
The NCF has identified 15 ‘small cores’ in Spiti, of which three (at Kibber WLS, near Lossar, and near Chichim) have already been secured through the foundation’s efforts with locals. In Ladakh, too, village elders and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) agreed to stop grazing activities in seven side-valleys seen to be of high wildlife value—in exchange for assured community access to the rest of the Hemis National Park. It’s a win-win deal.
The experience of other snow leopard range countries supports the conclusion that sparse human presence does not affect this wild cat’s well-being. A soon-to-be published report on Mongolia by the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) indicates that the presence or absence of nomadic herders around snow leopards inside as well as outside PAs in the South Gobi Desert does not affect the probability of snow leopards using a particular site. Complementarily, there is no record anywhere in the world of a human death due to a snow leopard attack.
So, by the time Project Snow Leopard drew up its plan in 2008, a diverse team of officials and experts from the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, WII, WWF and NCF-SLT, apart from five snow leopard states, had come to agree that ‘given the widespread occurrence of wildlife on common land, and the continued traditional land use within PAs, wildlife management in the region needs to be made participatory both within and outside PAs’.
More than one-third of the project budget (at least 3 per cent of the Ministry’s total outlay) was earmarked for facilitating a ‘landscape-level approach’, rationalising ‘the existing PA network’ and developing ‘a framework for wildlife conservation outside PAs’.
Each of the five states was supposed to select a Project Snow Leopard site, a combination of PA and non-PA areas, within a year and set up a state-level snow leopard conservation society with community participation. However, given the slow pace at which governments function, not much has moved since, except in Himachal Pradesh, where the state forest department has set up a participatory management plan for over half of Spiti wildlife division.
The red tape apart, two other factors are threatening to thwart this unique conservation project: the reluctance of the Ministry to release funds to non-PAs, and the indifference of some state forest departments towards a management plan for areas outside sanctuaries and national parks (such a plan must be submitted). “Snow leopards are present in many areas outside PAs, and I have asked for proposals from all high-altitude divisions. But there is no response from the non-wildlife divisions yet. It’s probably a mindset issue,” sighs Srikant Chandola, chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand.
Perhaps the same mindset prompted a 2010 WWF-India report to recommend only PAs in Uttarakhand as potential sites for snow leopard conservation, though the author Aishwarya Maheshwari now agrees that a landscape approach, “as mentioned in Project Snow Leopard”, is necessary.
Jagdish Kishwan, additional director-general (wildlife) at the Ministry, says that the Centre is keen to invest money in non-PAs, but there are “some technical issues”; moreover, the Ministry’s meagre allocation might end up too thinly spread in doing so.
The Ministry has its own grand recovery plan. Announced almost simultaneously with Project Snow Leopard, it has an ambitious Rs 800 crore scheme, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH), aimed at the recovery of 15 key species including ones found mostly outside PAs, such as: snow leopards, great Indian bustards and vultures. Centrally sponsored, IDWH has earmarked Rs 250 crore for ‘protection of wildlife outside PAs’. The states have been asked to submit their Project Snow Leopard management plans under the IDWH aegis.
If that is the case, what stops the Ministry from releasing money for non-PAs? “India’s 650-odd PAs are our priority. But I agree that certain key species need support outside PAs. We are examining these issues. The Government will find a way to provide funds to non-wildlife divisions under Project Snow Leopard,” assures Kishwan.
Going by the original 2008 document outlining the plan, Project Snow Leopard should have been in its second year of implementation by now.
That it hasn’t yet hit the ground, let’s hope, is not a sign of apathy towards a big cat that has had—for no fault of its own—only a ghostly presence in the consciousness of the establishment.

Collaborative Snow Leopard Conservation Project finally taking off, India

Nod for snow leopard project
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, February 21
The Snow Leopard Conservation Project will finally take off in the cold desert of Spiti with the Centre releasing the first instalment of Rs 80 lakh for the implementation of Rs 5.5 crore project.

The most remarkable feature of the project is the Snow Leopard Research Centre to be set up at Kibber. It will be the only second such institution in the world to be set up on the pattern of the one existing in Mongolia.

The integrated project formulated by the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) is being implemented in five trans-Himalayan states where the prized animal is found. The project was approved in principle in 2007 but for the implementation in the field, a comprehensive management plan was to be formulated after conducting a baseline survey.

The NCF which has been working on the endangered animal in Spiti for the past 20 years has already finalised the plan and now implementation would start.

Principal secretary, Forests, Sudipto Roy, who pursued the matter for release of funds, said it was designed on the pattern of the Project Tiger to be funded by the Centre.

With relatively less biotic interference, the Spiti valley was the stronghold of the endangered cat in India. An important feature was that the project would involve the local communities in monitoring and conservation to help reduce the snow leopard-migratory grazier conflict which had taken a heavy toll of the animal.

It is a unique collaborative project on which snow leopard experts are working closely with the senior wildlife officials to develop a good, participatory management plan for the unusual Spiti landscape on the basis of authentic scientific data.

The painstaking research conducted over 4000 sq km by wildlife experts in upper Spiti has revealed the presence of 4 or 5 snow leopards per 100 square km. The presence of other high altitude species like ibex, snow cock, blue sheep and grey wolf has also been noted during the research study to co-relate it with the snow leopard on through the prey-predator relationship and delineate its domain and movement. It is for the first time that so much research has been carried out in preparing a management plan before starting implementation of the project.

Besides Himachal, the project is being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttrakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh where the animal is found.

Snow leopard is a globally endangered species, restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia and rough estimates place its global population at around 7,500, which is believed to be fast depleting.

See and Help Save the Snow Leopard in Ladakh (Snow Leopard Conservancy trip featured in Luxury Travel Magazine)

January 12, 2011

Baobab Expeditions, a tour operator of extraordinary, conservation–based journeys to remote and exotic locales, is offering a 17-night expedition to India to see the crucially-endangered Snow Leopard in support of the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust.

The expert-guided trips are available leaving March 26 and December 3, 2011, include moderate to strenuous treks, and cost $4,397* per person, sharing. (Guests must be in Delhi, India by Day 1). Every booking results in a monetary donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy.

The Snow Leopard is one of the most beautiful animals in the world. Secretive and shy, it is poached for its bones, skin and organs, used in traditional Asian medicine. The Snow Leopard Conservancy is dedicated to promoting innovative grassroots measures that lead local people to become better stewards of these rarely-seen creatures, their prey and their habitat. It offers material support and planning assistance in exchange for a community’s agreement to assume the primary responsibility for protecting Snow Leopards and other wildlife.

The exciting journey to discover the Snow Leopard includes visits to Delhi, capital of India, and to Ladakh, a region of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, as the Himalayan Mountains create a rain shadow denying entry to monsoon clouds. Before setting off in search of the Snow Leopard, guests will acclimatize in the capital of Ladakh, Leh, sometimes called Little Tibet, which sits at the base of the 11,500 foot Karakoram Range, once a major commercial hub on the Silk Road. Highlight of the journey will be trekking in the mountains of Ladakh (aka Snow Leopard Country) guided by experts in the field. Adventurers will fly over the Himalayas, “Roof of the World”; experience the local Buddhist culture; visit ancient monasteries and palaces; and trek through Hemis National Park to ferret out the mysterious Snow Leopard. Along the way, trekkers will see many indigenous and endangered animal species including the Himalayan Snowcock, the Himalayan Wolf, the Wild Dog, Pallas’s Cat, the Red Fox, the Tibetan Argali, and the Bharal or blue sheep upon which the Snow Leopard preys. Using spotting scopes, guests will collect information on the Argali for the local Wildlife Department and for the Nature Conservancy Foundation.

Naturalist Peter Matthiessen’s 1978 book The Snow Leopard brought to the public’s attention the elusiveness of the big cat and the myths that have grown up around it. After seeing incredible wildlife but no Snow Leopard, Matthiessen’s companion in the search, zoologist George Schaller, mused, “We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.” Matthiessen himself felt that the journey into the last enclaves of pure Tibetan culture on earth was also a quest for “being.”

According to Wikipedia, “Snow Leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and they have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow Leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, important in the rocky terrain they inhabit; the tails are also very thick due to storage of fats, and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep. The Snow Leopard has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusual large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin cold air of their mountainous environment.”

For a detailed itinerary or more information visit

Cameras keep eye on snow leopards in Spiti Valley, India

2010-12-29 11:10:00

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

Kabul zoo officials in India seeking snow leopards

(AFP) – 1 day ago

KANPUR, India — A team of Afghan officials are in India to find an elephant and leopards for Kabul’s war-damaged zoo but transportation through Pakistan could be a problem, they said Thursday.

The Afghan capital’s zoo suffered severe damage during Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and the authorities are now working to restock with animals donated from India.

“Afghanistan wants an elephant, a leopard and a snow leopard from India because at present it does not have these animals,” Kabul zoo director Aziz Gul Saqeb, who is leading the five-member team in India, told AFP.

“Indian authorities have agreed to help us regarding the upkeep of the elephant once it is transported to Kabul,” he said after inspecting animals in a state-run zoo in the northern Indian town of Kanpur.

Kabul zoo’s showpiece lion Marjan, who was blinded by a grenade blast in 1993, died in 2002.

India and Afghanistan have enjoyed good ties and since the US-led invasion ended the Taliban’s regime. Delhi has committed 1.3 billion dollars to Afghanistan — mainly aid for social services including health and education.

Some 4,000 Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines in Afghanistan, and India is also building the new Afghan parliament.

Zoo chief Saqeb said his officials faced the prospect of a difficult journey with the animals through troubled Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2010 AFP.

Snow leopard skin seized in Palmar of Jammu, India, western Himalaya

Based on villagers’ information on the smuggling of parts of wild animals by a group of smugglers, the police launched a manhunt in Palmar of Jammu, western Himalaya and confiscated a snow leopard from the arrested person.

6 November 2011

Himachal Pradesh to measure wildlife density

Numbers in the jungle: Himachal Pradesh to measure wildlife density

Hemlata Verma Posted online: Wed Oct 06 2010, 02:03 hrs

Shimla : The state government has started a new project to measure the density of wildlife in protected areas. Till now, the state wildlife department only had information about the habitats and general movements of wildlife species found in the state. The state will now conduct a proper scientific study across all protected forests to find out the density of wild animals. The surveyors will primarily use the well established method of camera traps for the purpose. In the initial round, focus will be on species that have been declared endangered, such as western tragopan, monal and snow leopard.
Specialised agencies in the sector, including the Wildlife Society of India, are being engaged in the project that will span across 25 listed protected areas (sanctuaries and national parks).

“In the first stage, the agencies are in the process of setting up camera traps for checking the density of western tragopan in their natural habitat in Tirthan, Sainj (Kullu )and Kugti (Chamba) sanctuaries,” said an official in the forest department.

For other birds like monal and chir and animals, including Himalayan thar, ghoral, serow (ungulate species locally known as emu), camera traps are being laid in Talra and Churdhar wildlife sanctuaries. The method will lead to compilation of per square kilometre density of the wild animals.