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 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.
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
Udhampur-Jammu, March 3 (Scoop News/Ground Report) – Indian army rescued an injured snow leopard who was trapped by the villagers of LAGA village near Tangtse in Ladakh of J&K state.
According to reports reaching here the snow leopard was hiding behind a big stone. On getting information about the snow leopard, which is among endangered species, troops from nearby location rescued it with the help of a camouflage net and a blanket.
Meanwhile, the department of Wild Life was contacted at Leh and a team from the Wild Life department headed by Mr. Norbu, reached at LAGA village and shifted the injured snow leopard to the Animal Rescue Centre with the help of the Army troops, where it was treated, fed and kept overnight.Finally injured lepored was shifted by the Wild Life team to Leh for treatment & rehabilitation.
Jammu, Mar 3 (PTI – Press Trust of India) In separate incidents, people captured two leopards, including an endangered snow leopard, which had entered their villages, police officials said.A leopard barged into the house of Mohammad Younis and attacked herd of sheep in Ladote village of Rajouri district early today, they said.
The villagers assembled and captured the leopard, the officials said.
Later, they informed the matter to wildlife officials who had taken custody of the leopard, they said, adding the injured wildcat was being treated.
Another report said a snow leopard was trapped by the villagers when it entered village Laga near Tangtse mountain ridge in Leh district a few days back, army officials said.
Army troops and wildlife officials rescued the injured snow leopard and shifted it to animal rescue centre in Leh, where it was being treated, they said.
Nigel Richardson heads to Ladakh in India to seek out the snow leopard, one of the planet’s most elusive – and endangered – creatures.
By Nigel Richardson
Published: 10:12AM GMT 08 Feb 2010
Ladakh is rapidly and proudly establishing itself as the Snow Leopard Capital of the WorldPhoto: Alamy
Local conviction holds that the snow leopard is uncannily cleverPhoto: Corbis
Snow leopards, like foxes, have a predilection for committing what is known as ‘surplus killing’Photo: Corbis
She wasn’t visible at first. Then she moved, rippling silently down a gully of rocks and padding straight up to us. This was Uncia uncia, the snow leopard, one of the most endangered species on Earth and one of the most beautiful. She was certainly the most captivating creature I have ever seen: fur like mist, pale jade eyes, the regal and remote air of a monarch whose realm is the roof of the world.
“When you are an old man, remember this moment,” I said to my companion, a six-year-old relative called Elliot.
“Why?” said Elliot, licking his ice lolly.
“Because when you are an old man the snow leopard will not exist.”
The snow leopard, Yasmin, pressed her nose to the glass wall of her enclosure and Elliot pretended to stroke it. In this moment I became obsessed with the desire to see such a star in its natural firmament.
However enlightened and well run, zoos are ersatz. But imagine seeing a snow leopard in the wild rather than in captivity. My heart thumped at the thought – it would be like having cocktails with Marilyn Monroe compared to watching a DVD of Some Like It Hot.
Our encounter with Yasmin the snow leopard took place at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, on a sticky afternoon in August. Three months later I was standing high on a Himalayan mountain in a temperature of 14F (-10C). In front of me was a powerful telescope and it was focused on snow leopard tracks on a distant peak. Marilyn, I felt, was just powdering her nose. Any minute now she would sashay into view.
In truth, you are scarcely more likely to spot a snow leopard in the wild than you are to see a unicorn, or indeed to shoot the breeze with a dead Hollywood star. They are as rare as they are shy, their camouflage is brilliant and their habitat is fabulously remote and inhospitable. So when I heard, shortly after my visit to Marwell Zoo, of a travel company offering the chance to “track the elusive snow leopard on foot”, I thought: pull the other one.
But Steppes Discovery, the Cotswolds-based specialist in conservation and wildlife holidays, is deadly serious. It has found an expert partner on the ground in theIndianHimalayas that credibly claims to offer a chance of sightings in the course of a week-long trek. The trackers are the same as the ones used by the BBC and other wildlife film-makers. Oh, and a snow leopard was seen on the previous trip in March. It was a no-brainer.
The cat with the big tail (it doubles as a scarf) lives high in the mountains of Central Asia, from Mongolia in the north to Afghanistan in the west and China in the south and east. I headed for the former Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh is rapidly and proudly establishing itself as the Snow Leopard Capital of the World. Some thrilling film footage has been shot here and the enlightened way in which the authorities are trying to marry snow leopard conservation to the needs of local communities is a model of its kind.
It is also an appropriately other-worldly place to live out the dream of becoming one of just a handful of people on Earth to have seen a wild snow leopard. Cradled in the Himalayas, just an hour’s flying time north of Delhi, this high-altitude desert of crag-top temples and fluttering prayer flags is a stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism, oracles who babble in tongues and kindly, contemplative people.
When our flight touched down on a mid-November morning the temperature was 1F (-17C). The water pipes had frozen solid in our hotel in the Ladakhi capital, Leh, and hot water for washing was delivered to the room in steaming plastic buckets. For three days we gazed on a sunlit mountainscape from the south-facing windows of our rooms as we acclimatised to the altitude (Leh is 11,500ft above sea level).
On the third day we were driven south-west for an hour to the very mountain range we had been gazing on. This is HemisNational Park, 1,300 square miles of prime snow leopard habitat. No one knows for sure how many snow leopards there are left in the wild. The figure could be as low as the hundreds but is probably between 3,500 and 7,000, with a further 700 or so in zoos around the world. In Hemis there are reckoned to be between 40 and 75.
They share these valleys, ridges and peaks with more than a thousand people, 4,300 head of livestock and hundreds of wild bharal, or blue sheep, the snow leopard’s natural prey. The idea of coming at this time of year is that as the bharal seek warmth in the winter months by dropping into the valleys from those high peaks, so the snow leopard follow and make themselves more visible.
It’s a good theory. Walking up from the park entrance to our first camp we passed an American sunning himself against a drystone wall as he waited for his lift back to Leh. He had been in the park for nine days and had not seen a sausage. “I think they’re up there laughing at me,” he said ruefully.
But we felt different, chosen. Obsession has this effect. We were a trio of strangers brought together by the belief that the snow leopard would reveal itself to us. David was the retired MD of a trust company in the Cayman Islands and Gail was an engineer at a British nuclear power station. Here were, literally, Power and Money seeking something from life that is more precious than either of these things: a beautiful creature on the brink of extinction.
Our trek leader and main tracker was a pair of finely attuned eyes called Dorje Chitta, a 35-year-old snow leopard expert with many of the qualities of our quarry, being enigmatic, stealthy and short on unnecessary vocalisation.
“Now you can start looking,” he said, setting up one of the expedition’s three powerful telescopes. “On ridges, on ledges. He is sitting in the sun for hours, just looking around, thinking: ‘Where is my dinner?’ ”
We had just pitched camp at a confluence of valleys 12,000ft above sea level. Our tents were huddled among a grove of leafless willow trees and a Buddhist shrine fluttering with prayer flags. The mountain walls and fantastical rock formations that surrounded us climbed another 8,000ft into a sky that was dazzling blue by day and electrified with stars at night, when the mercury headed south like a runaway lift.
I spotted the snow leopard tracks on a high peak almost a mile to the north, looking like a zip fastener in the deep snow. It was an extraordinary-shaped mountain, like an Elizabethan ruff, and Chitta pointed out the snow leopard’s favoured route of descent, through the frills of the ruff. It had been at least a day since he passed that way, but it was a promising start.
And so the quest began. Each morning and afternoon we headed out from base camp to a different valley, took up position on a new ridge, clambered high onto a fresh saddle. And looked. Bent to the scope, Chitta would pore for many minutes over a single section of mountainside – cover one eye, rub his eyes, corroborate what he had seen through binoculars, go back to the scope. Ten minutes would pass. Twenty. The mountain silence was so pure and profound it sang in one’s ears.
Surely he had seen something? Then, before we knew it, he had lifted the scope and padded off silently through the snow.
Two days passed. Three. Then I spotted a soft, roundish object on a sunlit ledge half a mile above us. It was, I convinced myself, a snow leopard’s head. Any second now it would move. Those vertical pupils would be locked on to us, far below. “Hey Chitta!” I could hardly get the words out. He crouched and looked.
“It’s a bush,” he said.
On the fourth morning, having got no nearer to a sighting than old pug marks in the snow, I arrived in the mess tent with a thought that conveyed the scale of our task. “You know what we’re doing?” I said. “We’re looking for a cathedral-coloured beetle in a cathedral.” My fellow obsessives, David and Gail, barely looked up from their breakfast omelettes.
That morning our team of four guides and cooks struck camp, loaded our gear on to mules and moved higher up the valley to a site at 12,500ft. This brought us near to the village of Rumbak, an area rich in snow leopard where many researchers and film teams have stayed over the past 15 years.
This was a last throw of the dice. By now I was trying to adjust to the possibility of failure but, goodness knows, it was a hard thing to accept given that we were currently existing at the extremes of human endurance for the sake of just a flash of that ermine-like fur. The next day, like half-mad mystics, all three of us started beseeching the mountains to reveal their feline fugitives. “Just once, dear God,” I found myself murmuring.
On the penultimate day Chitta found pug marks that were only a few hours old and beetled off across the valley like a bloodhound as we returned to camp in deep snow. But he lost the trail among rocks and returned with an expressionless face. That evening we drowned our disappointments with a bit of a knees-up in Rumbak.
Over momos – spicy dumplings – and army-issue rum the villagers talked about snow leopards. In the winter, they said, they bring their livestock down from the high pastures and corral them in front yards and in the ground floors of their flat-roofed, mud-brick houses. Last year, while a party was going on (there is little else to do in these ferocious winters), they had a visitor. And if you subscribe to the local conviction that the snow leopard is uncannily clever you will believe that his choice of evening to come down off the mountain and raid the village was not random.
“The leopard came inside the yard,” explained a leather-faced man, making stealthy swoops with his hand. “He kill 12 out of 19 goats and sheep.”
Snow leopards, like foxes, have a predilection for committing what is known as “surplus killing”, especially in confined spaces. “He drinks so much blood, he gets drunk,” Chitta said. The woman who owned the slaughtered livestock said the snow leopard had made its escape before the villagers discovered the bloodbath.
In times past, the village would have made a trap for the snow leopard and stoned it to death. Now they contact the local wildlife department and register for compensation. The scheme is not perfect but this and other educative measures have changed the attitude of villagers to the cats on their doorsteps.
Slithering back to camp that night beneath mountain walls and a waxing moon, I knew that failure was my friend, that I was not yet ready to see the snow leopard. But my obsession burns brightly and I will return to the snow leopards’ rocky domain. Meanwhile, one can dream. Bartender, another glass of Dom Perignon 53 for Miss Monroe.
On the trail
The 14-day expedition was arranged by Steppes Discovery (01285 643333; www.steppesdiscovery.co.uk) It costs from £2,720 per person including full board in tents and/or village accommodation on the week-long trek and four nights in a hotel in Leh, the services of expert guides and porters, sightseeing in Ladakh and internal flights from Delhi to Leh. Depending on internal flights, two or three nights will be spent in Delhi, where meals are not included. A percentage of the cost (depending on group size) is donated to the Snow Leopard Conservancy (www.snowleopardconservancy.org). International flights are extra. The next treks are March 7-21 and November 7-21. Steppes Discovery can also arrange a tour for a private group.
SRINAGAR, FRIDAY, 14 MUHARRAM 1431 AH ; FRIDAY, JANUARY 01, 2010 CE
Project launched to save endangered snow leopard
ARIF SHAFI WANI
Srinagar, Dec 31: The State Government has started work on an ambitious project to save the existing population of the endangered Snow Leopard in its bastion, the higher reaches of Ladakh with focus on its habitat improvement. After receiving financial assistance from the Centre, the wildlife authorities have started work on the ‘Project Snow leopard’ in Ladakh. The project will span 3500 sq kms including Hemis High Altitude National Park in Ladakh. Pertinently snow leopards are mostly found in mountainous regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Poached for its attractive fur, organs and bones, just 4500 to 7000 snow leopards left in the world and India is home to approximately 400 to 600 of them. However as sixty percent of snow leopards have been found in Ladakh region, it has been included in the Species Recovery Programme being funded through the umbrella scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’. “We have completed micro-planning and identified the areas with huge concentration of leopards in Ladakh. Besides we have started the process to develop infrastructure and capacity building of staff,” wildlife warden Ladakh, Saleem-ul-Haq, told Greater Kashmir. He said involvement of locals in the project, however, was imperative for its success. He said the department has approached wildlife experts from outside who will raise awareness about the leopard among the locals and the wildlife staff. Officials said hundreds of tourists visit Ladakh only to see the snow leopard. “To cash on this aspect, the project has kept a provision for eco-tourism wherein the locals will host the tourists in their houses. This will serve dual purpose of promoting tourism and snow leopard conservation through community participation,” he said. However, he maintained that leopards had no threat of poaching in Ladakh. “People here have strong religious beliefs and love for the wild animals. The only problem is that the leopards kill their livestock. We will stress on mitigating attacks on livestock,” he said. The authorities plan to install special trap cameras in highly concentrated areas of the snow leopard. “The special cameras will record the leopards’ movement and help the scientists to understand their behaviour in their natural habitat,” he said and added this will help in long-term conservation measures. Haq said freezing temperate was the only bottleneck for the project’s speedy implementation. The project includes developing grazing and management policies along with promotion of conservation and education awareness initiatives. Besides construction of Nature interpretation Centre, the project endeavours procurement of high resolution digital cameras, survey and census gadgets and equipments for handling human-wild animal conflicts. “One of the threats to the snow leopard is drastic decrease of its ungulate preys including wild sheep and goats. The project includes compensation packages for livestock depletion. It is mandatory to preserve the natural habitat of snow leopard for its conservation,” said Tahir Shawl a wildlife warden, who has worked extensively on the snow leopard. Pertinently the Project Snow Leopard was launched in January this year. It is being undertaken in five Himalayan states including Jammu and Kashmir with the support from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Mysore based Nature Conservation Foundation. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has sanctioned Rs 1.26 crore for the project. Importantly the Project Snow Leopard will be treated on a par with other flagship species programmes of the country such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant.
Ladakh has an unwelcome visitor: Climate change. Retreating glaciers, water scarcity and changes in traditional agricultural patterns are having an adverse impact on this fragile ecololgy.There’ s an old saying in Ladakh that only a dear friend or a serious enemy will reach here; the passes are so high and the land so harsh. Climate change falls in the latter category and is an unwelcome visitor to this remote region which tourists have happily discovered in the last few years or so. Water, or the lack of it, is the main worry for this generation and the next. While the world debates the effects of global warming, Ladakhis who are most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, are living through it already. The many small glaciers in Ladakh have retreated, natural springs are reducing as also the water flow in the rivers. While there are no scientific studies yet to bear this out, it is the people who are living witnesses to this change.In the village of Stakmo near Leh, villagers testify to the receding glacier nearby, making agriculture very difficult. Over 80 per cent of the farmers in Ladakh depend on snow melt for their needs and any slight change in temperature is a catastrophe. High altitude wetlands are vulnerable to rising temperatures and Ms. Nisa Khatoon, Project Officer, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has led a study since 2000 to assess the impact of climate change on three major lakes in Ladakh, the Tso Moriri, Tso Kar and Pangong Tso. The lakes offer the only breeding grounds for the Black-necked Crane in India and key species found in the region include the snow leopard, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Antelope, Musk Deer and Hangul. Highly endangered medicinal plants used in the Tibetan system of medicine also grow in the area.
Threat of tourism
The existing threat of climate change is exacerbated by tourism which coincides with the breeding season of the migratory birds, posing a major threat. For the first time, a regular uninterrupted survey on the status of the Black-necked Crane was conducted and during the survey, six new nesting sites were discovered, Ms. Khatoon points out. The study has produced data on the “Status and Breeding Productivity of Black-necked Crane” for more than eight years. Himalayan car rallies in wetland areas have been stopped in cooperation with tour operators too. Instead of this, to boost the local income, home-stays for national and international tourists have become popular.The WWF has also recorded widespread changes as a result of the rise in temperatures and the subsequent snow melt in Ladakh, mainly through oral histories. Eyewitnesses have spoken of glaciers like Siachen, Khardung and Stok in Ladakh, which have either receded or almost disappeared in about a decade. Along with this comes a change in migration routes of nomadic tribes and an increase in the frequency and intensity of pest attacks, particularly the locust, due to rising temperatures.In the Changthang region, where there are 22 wetlands, people of the nomadic tribe, the Changpas, acutely feel climate change. They are dependent on livestock and rear the famous Pashmina goats for their wool. Since about six years, the migration routes of the Changpas have changed due to decrease in pasture land. Untimely snowfall has led to a loss of livestock as well, says Ms. Khatoon. In the Tso Moriri and Tso Kar lakes, migratory birds are coming earlier than expected and one pair of Black-necked Cranes have not migrated. The wild rose blooms now in May instead of June. The Changpas used to extract salt from the brackish lakes but since the water level has risen over the years, this too has stopped. In the Tso Kar area there are 60 Changpa families which have to frequently migrate, while in Tso Moriri, 22 families have settled down there.The summers are getting warmer and winters too and pests like the coddling moth are now found everywhere, says Tundup Angmo of GERES India, an NGO. Rain and snowfall are showing a decreasing trend, according to a baseline survey in 20 villages in Leh and Kargil areas which was conducted by GERES along with experts. In Kargil, water shortage has hit farmers and two villages were relocated in the Zanskar as a result. The cultivation of wheat is now possible due to the warmer climate and the sowing of barely is now pushed to May instead of June.
Water shortage has led to hotels in Leh digging borewells, some 100 feet deep for water supply and in the Karzu area in Leh, this has led to the drying up of natural streams, says Ms. Khatoon. Concern about water is uppermost in the minds of every Ladakhi. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, which spearheaded the successful campaign banning plastic bags in Ladakh, is one of the groups which has members in every village in Ladakh. Fifty-seven-year-old Kunzes Dolma, vice president of the Alliance formed 23 years ago, has been addressing local environmental concerns. Now it has teamed up with the NGO Navdhanya to conduct a survey on climate change in villages, based on a ready questionnaire which asks for information on awareness of climate change, evidence, and environmental changes, apart from changes in agriculture patterns, rainfall and snowfall. The Alliance has initiated several meetings on climate change already.
Kunzes recalls colder winters when she was a child. Now the winters are warmer, she says. The quality of food was tastier then and now vegetables like capsicum, brinjal and cucumber are being grown. There is increased use of pesticides and the Alliance is campaigning against this as well.There is a huge concern about the melting glaciers, and lack of water and even livestock rearing is reducing now with more and more people preferring to look for jobs. The traditional “goncha” a warm woolen dress is not much preferred now. Traditional homes in Ladakh have been designed using ecological and climatic wisdom. However, those mud houses are being replaced by cement structures. Clearly, there is also a cultural aspect to the climate change here. “Our aim is to promote nature conservation and our culture. The modern generation is dropping all our old ways of life and the explosion of cars is damaging the environment,” says Ms. Dolma.Local and global links need to be forged to address climate change if regions like Ladakh are to be rescued from their vulnerability. The question is, who is listening?Keywords: Ladakh, Leh and Kargil, environment
It marks yet another success in breeding programme
The 13-year-old female was rescued from Ladakh in 1997
The gender could not be ascertained as the cubs are with their mother in a separate area
Kolkata: News of the birth of three snow leopard cubs at the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling in West Bengal might bring some cheer to conservationists, given the dwindling numbers of the animal in the wild.
“A female snow leopard gave birth to a litter of three cubs last month, marking yet another success in the snow leopard breeding programme in the zoo,” A.K. Jha, director of PNHZP, told The Hindu over telephone from Darjeeling.
The 13-year-old female snow leopard, which gave birth to the cubs, was rescued from Ladakh in 1997 by the zoo authorities and has given birth four times since.
Mr. Jha said the gender of the cubs could not be ascertained till now as they were now with their mother in a separate quarter to avoid human contact. The zoo already has 10 snow leopards — five male and five female.
Mr. Jha said talks were on with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to bring over another leopard that was rescued in Ladakh two months ago.
The PNHZP is the only zoological park in the country that has successfully carried out the breeding programme of endangered snow leopards, in addition to red pandas and Tibetan wolves.
Snow leopards are found in the upper ranges of the Himalayan range in Ladakh, Sikkim and Nepal. An endangered species, no specific census has ever been done on the number of animals left in the wild.
Mr. Jha said the Ministry of Environment and Forests is about to undertake a project of snow leopard census in the country very soon.