Fast decline in fascinating snow leopards population, Pakistan

Noor Aftab for The International News
Sunday, February 20, 2011

Though extinction of wildlife species in Pakistan is not new as well as ‘astonishing’ phenomenon but for those who care it would be quite disappointing that fast decline in population of fascinating snow leopards in mountain ranges has now clearly indicated their near-disappearance from the wildlife scene.

Only two population studies of snow leopards in Pakistan have ever been attempted — one in 1974 by noted biologist George Schaller and another by Shafqat Hussain of Yale University in 2003. But unofficial reports unanimously portrayed a bleak picture in which it was stated that there were only 300 to 400 snow leopards left in the snow-covered mountain ranges of Pakistan, out of a total estimated world population of 4,000 to 7,000. This region is the main corridor for connecting bigger populations of snow leopards living in Pakistan, Central Asia, China, India and Nepal.

According to International Snow Leopards Trust, the main factors blamed for decline in the population of snow leopards included poaching, retribution killing, prey loss and lack of awareness among the local people.

Though trade in snow leopards is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, their pelts bring high prices on the black market, often equivalent to an entire year’s income for a mountain villager.

The data showed that snow leopards are hunted illegally for their pelts, which are sought after especially in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia for coats and other garments. Their bones and other body parts are also in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine.

Many of the poachers are local people from snow leopard areas for them poaching may be a lucrative source of extra income to help them feed their families.

Snow leopards sometimes prey on domestic livestock. Herders in snow leopard areas lead precarious economic lives, and their wealth is almost entirely tied up in their herds. The loss of even a single sheep or goat represents a real economic hardship. Herders often retaliate for these losses by trapping, poisoning, or shooting snow leopards.

As humans push ever further into mountainous areas with their livestock, the snow leopard’s habitat is degraded and fragmented. Overgrazing damages the fragile mountain grasslands, leaving less food for the wild sheep and goats that are the snow leopard’s main prey.

Legal and illegal hunting for meat and trophies is also depleting prey populations. This situation also increases conflict with local people, because snow leopards are more likely to kill domestic livestock when their natural prey is scarce.

Sitting at the top of the food chain, snow leopards play a key role in maintaining the mountain ecosystem. Dr Ma Ming, of the Snow Leopard Trust in Xinjiang, China, calls it an ‘umbrella species’: protecting it ensures its habitat and many other local species are also preserved.

While going through the efforts made so far Project Snow Leopard (PSL) initiated by Yale University researcher Shafqat Hussain in 1998 appeared one of the effective steps to ensure survival of this endangered species.

The insurance scheme started by Shafqat Hussain compensates villagers for every goat killed by the predators, which effectively deters the villagers from killing the offending cat or any other suspect.

The annual premium paid is one per cent of the value of one goat, with each herder paying according to the number of goats he owns. This covers about half of all claims.

Director of Deosai National Park Zakir told this correspondent that they have been working on three conservation programmes to ensure increase in the population of snow leopards in mountainous regions.

He said despite the fact that there are only 80 personnel in the wildlife department to curb illegal hunting and implement plans in the area measuring 28,000 sq km they are trying their best to protect and preserve rare animal species.

“We have investigated various incidents in which local people poisoned snow leopards to protect their livestock so various mass awareness campaigns have been initiated especially in those areas where snow leopards enjoy their habitat,” he said.

Zakir said they have also signed MoU with Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan that would pave the way for improving socio-economic conditions of the local people in return of their cooperation for protection of snow leopards from hunting or killing.

From Yellowstone to the Karakorums: A journey to understand conflicts with large carnivores

Written by SLN member Tanya Rosen, NRCC Research Associate.

Reprinted from: NRCC News (Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative) annual newsletter: bridging science and policy to advance conservation. Fall 2010, issue 23(1). 12-13.

It is a warm July evening and the bus of the Northern Areas Transportation Company has just pulled into Skardu, after a 29-hour exhilarating drive along the Karakorum Highway from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Mesmerized by the unearthly beauty of the Karakorum mountains, I step off the bus with Rich Harris of the University of Montana. We are greeted with a warm smile by Ghulam Mohammad, the manager of Project Snow Leopard of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO).

In 1999, Shafqat Hussain, a conservationist and anthropologist, founded Project Snow Leopard (PSL), focused on creating incentives for snow leopard conservation in villages in Gilgit- Baltistan. Ghulam soon joined the organization. Whereas in the past farmers would normally retaliate against livestock losses by killing snow leopards, Shafqat proposed that farmers set aside a
collective pool of money equal to the value of the average annual loss rate. In his words, “The loss of livestock would then be a mild setback for the entire community rather than a devastating
loss for a farmer alone.” That idea led to the development of an insurance-like scheme with two components: a collective insurance fund managed by the community’s Snow Leopard Conservation Committee (SLCC) and a second fund managed by BWCDOPSL that is ideally funded by income from an eco-tourism venture focused on snow-leopard viewing called Full Moon Night Trekking. !e premiums are relatively low and the compensation that is disbursed when the animal is lost to snow leopards is subsidized with money from the second fund.

Snow leopards are beautiful cats that use their thick fluffy tail for balancing. They are agile hunters of the ungulates that inhabit the Karakorums: ibex and markhor. But a decrease in wild prey due to hunting and poaching has varied their diet. A diet that now includes domestic livestock. They are very hard to spot in the wild where they blend in well with their surrounding landscape; but when they come in villages or summer pastures to attack livestock, they are easier to catch, especially in instances of surplus killing when they kill more than they need for food and surprisingly don’t always flee the killing scene.

Eleven years later, the Project has expanded into 9 villages. I am excited to be here, to help in the expansion of the project and to learn as well. Since I am working on similar conflicts for Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Yellowstone, I have a feeling that the work that Shafqat and Ghulam do here can help back home.

After a night in Skardu, we leave with Ghulam for Hushey in Ganche District, where we will join Shafqat and engage in community dialogues to assess their satisfaction with Project Snow Leopard’s insurance scheme. We drive for six hours, stopping to take in more of the landscape and basking in the dramatic contrasts of light and height.

Hushey is a small village in the shadow of Masherbrum. Many trekkers and climbers come through on their way to climbing the largest concentration of 8000 metre-and-up peaks in the world. Boys and girls are running around and happy to practice their English learned from Oxford University Press books in the private school subsidized entirely by the village and their families.

We sit on a small veranda sipping chai tea and eating chapatti bread. People come to greet us and we begin to talk. In my extremely modest Urdu vocabulary I rely on my hands and eyes to
express how happy I am to be with them, how inspiring to know what they are doing for the snow leopard. I look up…and wonder if hidden and camouflaged in the rocks there is one just staring at
me now.

That night, sitting outside my tent, I look at the contours of the mountains in the dark: it’s Lailat ul Bara’h, a holiday when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one’s destiny is fixed for the year ahead. I sense Hushey is a place I will be coming back to for years to come.

The following morning, we meet with the members of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee. Shafqat starts the meeting by introducing Rich and me. He explains that we are here to understand the work that has been done, help make it sustainable, and identify research opportunities that can produce data to show that the hard work and commitment of Hushey is paying off: namely that conflict has decreased and snow leopard and ibex populations have increased. I also add that I am here to learn for my work back in Yellowstone, where the social tolerance for carnivores is dropping dramatically. Given how precarious livelihoods are in this region, I am still amazed that people here would want to do conservation.

With my experience in Yellowstone, I have been thinking more and more that conservation is for wealthy people. It is easy to love and care for wildlife that does not threaten your life and your
economic activities. So I was surprised to hear one of the elders say that “the decision to take proactive measures to protect the snow leopard” was a decision “taken by the community and not a tall order coming from a conservation organization.” As the leader of the village Snow Leopard Conservation Committee tells me, with Shafqat and Ghulam translating, Hushey “wants to protect the snow leopard because it is proud to have an animal that so many people care about.”

Clearly not everyone feels that way…and if that was not the case I would probably not believe it. However, the combination of peer pressure, coupled with the calls of the mullah of the local mosque that deeds against the snow leopard would not go unpunished, tell me that Hushey has a true conservation success story to tell. I listen carefully. As people get more comfortable, with the conversation turning from a question-and-answer session to a free flowing dialogue, everyone chimes in with tales, views and feelings about experiencing livestock losses. Even with the insurance scheme in place, these people still take an incredible economic loss, as the compensation paid does not fully compensate the cost of the animal lost. The village has a very small economy with agriculture and livestock activities carried out only to meet local needs.
!ere is a relatively successful trophy hunting program that brings some cash and, since Hushey is en route to K2 and other peaks, there are some income opportunities for guides, porters and cooks, but the economic opportunities remain small. It was incredible that such a powerful conservation lesson came from such a place.

I turn to Shafqat, who started the whole program, but maintains an impressive modesty. He does not talk about himself or the awards he’s received for the project. In Hushey, he blends in. But when he talks, his narrative is magical and persuasive. He cares about the people and the snow leopard, not the renown he might get from it. Ghulam is the same; the species and the people are the most important thing about the project for both of them.

!e next stop is Baisha, a neighboring valley where the economic opportunities are even more limited. Thanks to the expert hands of driver Mansour, we safely negotiate narrow roads, some washed out by roaring streams or blocked by massive boulders that luckily decided to tumble down before or after we passed. Many villages in Baisha are accessible only on foot or via cable over the river. Because of their location and access difficulties, places like Sibiri, Zill, and Doko are more cut-off from income generating opportunities, like portering or trophy hunting. Development aid has not arrived there yet either, at least not as visibly as in Hushey. In one of the villages, the teacher of the local government school shows up only one day out of every four.
!e private school is expensive for the farmers, and families choose to educate their sons first, which leaves 67 girls out of school.

Talking about snow leopard conservation in the context of such problems with the education system and a lack of primary healthcare is really hard. We learn that the need to protect their
limited economic resources has driven people in this valley to poison snow leopards. The demand for snow leopard fur has exacerbated this practice. But, once again, surprisingly the people from Sibiri choose to protect the snow leopard.

Back in Skardu, hell has broken loose. The Karakorum Highway is closed. The angry and dark Indus River we saw on the way up to Skardu, full and seemingly in a hurry to reach the plains, was not the norm. Bridges have collapsed — once again either before or after we arrived, but we are stuck. We scout the sky and hope for the clouds to open up enough for a plane to land to take us back to Islamabad. I am not ready to leave though. I have learned so much from the way people live here, and I hope to come back soon, perhaps this spring. !e warmth of the people I talked to cut through barriers of culture, gender, and religion and went straight to the core. You talk about wildlife and the hardships of life and you see that where you come from does not matter: nature, in this case in the shape of a wild cat and the challenges it poses, unites us.

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.

Innovative conservation project in Pakistan sees a slow but sure rise in the number of the endangered big cats

Endangered snow leopard clawing its way back: Innovative conservation project in Pakistan sees a slow but sure rise in the number of the endangered big cats

Zofeen Ebrahim in Karachi, for IPS, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 12 August 2010 16.41 BST Article history

An endangered snow leopard. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/REUTERS

For more than 10 years, Shafqat Hussain has been on the trail of the endangered snow leopard. He has heard the beast’s growl, and has seen its pugmarks against a snowy track. But his dream, of coming eye-to-eye with the elusive nocturnal feline, remains unfulfilled. “If you’ve seen the cat, you’ve seen the Holy Grail,” says Hussain.

However, he is not as much “driven by sighting the animal, as ensuring its survival”, says the 41-year-old Hussain, an environmentalist and anthropology professor at Trinity College in the United States.

Snow leopards are globally “endangered”, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with total population estimated at between 4,000 and 7,000.

While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) bans the trade of snow leopards and its body parts, the wild feline – found only in the mountainous regions of central and south Asia – faces much antagonism from local herders who kill them in retaliation for attacks on their goats, Hussain says.

In 1999, Hussain started an innovative insurance programme in two Baltistan villages, named Project Snow Leopard, with funding from the Royal Geographical Society and the U.S.-based Snow Leopard Conservancy.

“I’m not totally indifferent to the loss the local community bears at the loss of their goats,” Hussain told IPS in a telephone interview during his annual visit to Skardu – the capital town of Baltistan, a northern Pakistani region bordering Xinjiang, China.

His “alternate approach”, Hussain explains, “helps in the conservation and protection of the snow leopards, but also compensates the local herders for every goat killed by the feline, on the condition that the villagers will not kill it”.

Some six months ago, a snow leopard attacked Ghulam Mehdi’s herd in Hushey village in Baltistan. “They (Project Snow Leopard) paid me a compensation of 4,500 rupees (52 U.S. dollars),” says Mehdi, a 35-year-old goat herder.

Mehdi has insured all his goats. “We pay two rupees (2 cents) per month for each goat. The project registers our livestock and keeps count,” he says. “They only compensate if the goat has been killed by a leopard, not by a wolf or another wild animal. They can tell which animal has attacked our goats.”

The key to the success of the programme – which has over 5,000 herders in it – is that the villagers own and run it. Residents have been trained to use and maintain remote cameras installed at various locations to monitor and study the snow leopard.

Project Snow Leopard has expanded to 10 Pakistani villages, and has been replicated in neighbouring countries like Nepal, China and India.

Indeed, “such programmes only succeed if the community is involved,” says Ejaz Ahmad, the deputy director general of the World Wildlife Fund Pakistan. Similar programmes are underway for the common leopard in the resort towns of the Galiaath region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“Over the years,” he explains, “there is less and less reporting of the community involved in retaliatory killing of the both the species of the cats.”

Humans are the biggest threat to the survival of snow leopards, found in the Himalayan mountain ranges in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They have been spotted as far north as Siberia.

Weighing between 27 and 54 kilogrammes, the snow leopard can grow to lengths of up to 130 centimetres and sits at the top of the food chain. “One less species of the cat can cause the ecosystem to topple,” says Hussain.

This can trigger environmental changes such as the denudation of vegetation cover, he explains. It can cause the population of wild goats to increase, which may lead to degradation of pastures that in turn causes soil erosion.

Based on a survey he conducted in 2003, Hussain estimates there are some 450 snow leopards left in Pakistan, spread across Chitral in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory; in the Dir, Swat, Kohistan districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“Its population grows, slowly,” Hussain says, confident he will find improved figures when he carries out the next survey in 2013.

But snow leopards also continue to attack domesticated animals, though there is no scarcity of natural prey like the ibex and the markhor. “It’s easier to kill a goat than stalking wild prey,” explains Hussain.

Another reason for these attacks is the rapidly growing human population that is encroaching on the leopard’s habitat. “But even that is not so much a concern as the attitude,” Hussain points out. “There is a growing intolerance of the human race to let other species exist.”

“The local people always held the view that the leopard was a threat that needed to be eliminated,” Hussain says. “Over the centuries, with advancement in weapons, the negative slant has been transformed into negative action and thus its indiscriminate killing.”

“There is a lot of pressure on the wild animals,” acknowledges Ahmad of WWF. But he opines that it is not easy for the leopard to attack goats as herders take extra precautions. “The feline will only attack when its natural prey is unavailable and the cat is very hungry.”

With a sprinkling of 212 villages across 50 percent of the snow leopard’s habitat, Hussain acknowledges that his project has long way more to go. “Protecting and conserving animal species is the responsibility of the state,” he says. “Hopefully we’ve provided a model to emulate.”

Project launched to save endangered snow leopard (India)


Project launched to save endangered snow leopard


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.

Himachal Pradesh takes steps to consolidate Snow Leopard Conservation

Himachal Pradesh takes steps to consolidate Snow Leopard Conservation Press release from the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department issued on 17 June 2009

In a significant step to strengthen conservation of the Snow Leopard, the state animal of Himachal Pradesh, the wildlife department organized an intensive and constructive brain-storming session with snow leopard experts on Tuesday, 16th June, in Shimla. The workshop, chaired by the Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh, Shri Avay Shukla, was attended by senior staff of the Wildlife Department, field staff from Spiti Wildlife Division, Snow Leopard experts from the Nature Conservation Foundation and the Snow Leopard Trust. Snow leopard is a globally endangered species, restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia. Coarse estimates place its global population at around 7500, which is fast believed to be depleting. One of the main threats to the snow leopard is its retaliatory killing by local communities, whose livestock this cat occasionally preys upon. There is also the threat of illegal trade in its pelt and bones.
The Spiti Valley is a stronghold for this endangered cat in India. In today’s workshop, senior Wildlife Department officials and snow leopard experts discussed the need for a good conservation program across Spiti’s landscape, which is based on good scientific information on the one hand, and involving the local communities on the other. Good training of wildlife field-staff in participatory conservation, wildlife monitoring, and general welfare were identified as important next steps.
In this unique collaborative project, snow leopard experts are working closely with the senior wildlife officials to develop a good, participatory management plan for the Spiti landscape. In today’s meeting, results of painstaking research conducted over 4000 km2 by wildlife experts in the Upper Spiti Landscape was presented by snow leopard experts, and the structure of the management plan was laid out. There were spirited discussion on all aspects, and valuable inputs were provided by the wildlife officials.
As the next step, a combined team of Senior Wildlife officials and snow leopard experts will be visiting Spiti to conduct local consultations. The management plan is expected to be finalized over the next few months, and implemented with support of Project Snow Leopard, a recently approved programme of the Government of India.
The PCCF cum Chief Wildlife Warden Himachal Pradesh, Mr. A.K. Gupta, while giving valuable inputs during the discussions, also proposed a vote of thanks, appreciating the effort made so far in this unique project. The wildlife department is determined to set up a unique and participatory snow leopard conservation programme in Spiti Valley, one of India’s most important snow leopard landscapes.
Some additional published information about the meeting:
Plan to conserve snow leopard Tribune News Service
Shimla, June 20
Wildlife experts and officers of the Forest Department have held discussions to finalise a management plan for the conservation of snow leopard under the national project being implemented in the Himalayan states.
The snow leopard experts from the Nature Conservation Foundation and the Snow Leopard Trust, who have been studying the endangered cat in the state, were of the view that the cold desert of Spiti with its scarce human population and vast area was ideal for conservation. The findings of studies conducted over 4,000 sq km in the Upper Spiti Division were presented along with the structure of the proposed management plan. The need for a conservation programme based on good scientific information and involving local communities was underlined. Proper training of the field staff in participatory conservation, wildlife monitoring and general welfare were identified as the key areas for the successful implementation of the project.

Spiti valley chosen for initiating Project Snow Leopard in Himachal

Posted: Friday , Mar 27, 2009 at 0142

As the pre-project stage gets underway in the state, the first-ever census of snow leopards is being conducted by the National Conservation Foundation (NCF), a non-government organisation. So far, only the head count of snow leopards is as per estimates, that put the numbers at around 400. After the snow leopard was identified as a highly endangered species in Himachal, over a year ago, the state government had taken an initiative to declare it as the state animal as it is the most important species of the mountain region and is at the apex of the ecological pyramid. Though its habitat is in the upper reaches (above 3,000 metres) of Himachal, one of the main issues to be tackled by conservationists would remain man-animal conflict and protection of the ecology of its natural habitat. “Conservation with community participation” is expected to be the focus of the project and resident communities as well as the nomadic communities such as Ban Gujjars would also be involved in sensitisation towards the conservation of the animal. Chief Wildlife Warden A K Gupta said, “The survey work of NCF in Spiti valley, where over 1,000 square metres of biological strategic landscape would be first identified for conservation, has started.” In a phased manner, the project would be extended to Pangi in Lahaul, Kinnaur, Bharmour in upper Chamba, Bara Bhangal in upper Kangra, Mantalai, Pin Parvati, upper great Himalayan National Park, upper Manali under upper Kullu and Rupi Bhabha and Dodra Kwar in upper Shimla district. Project Snow Leopard, launched by the Centre, would accord the snow leopard the same status of importance in areas of high altitude, as has been allotted to the tiger in the terrestrial landscape. Starting from village wildlife conservation committees and landscape-level implementation committees, the network of conservation would be headed by a state-level committee in which the wildlife department is contemplating involving all stakeholder departments such as agriculture, animal husbandry and horticulture. HP to launch snow leopard project
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service
Shimla, July 13
Encouraged by the marginal increase in the number of snow leopards in Himachal, one of the biggest habitat of the endangered species, the Wildlife Department is in the process of launching a project for developing a conservation strategy to increase their population.
For the implementation of the snow leopard project, the wildlife authorities are already in touch with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mussorie. Even a marginal increase in the number of snow leopards from 32 to 35, during the latest census this year has encouraged the department to launch the project at the earliest. The fact that during the latest census undertaken in June, for the first time the mapping of the exact location of the snow leopard has been done, which will help in their conservation and increase in number. The habitat status analysis of the snow leopard will be done to identify the areas where it has been found in larger numbers. “During the recent census, our staff has recorded 24 snow leopards in Spiti, eight in Lahaul and Pangi and the three new animals have been sighted in the Parbati valley and Great Himalayan National Park in Kulu district,” informed Mr A.K. Gulati, Additional Principal Chief Conservator (Wildlife). Himachal apart from Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal and Sikkim is one of the few states in the country where the snow leopard is found. In Himachal, it is mostly found in Kaza, Lahaul Spiti, Pangi, Parbati and the Great Himalayan National Park. The project will take care of the proper management of the Himalayan habitat of the snow leopard. “Another important aspect that the project will take care of will strengthen the number of Himalayan Thar and Ibex, which are the natural feed of the snow leopard,” said Mr Gulati. The wildlife authorities are also keen on getting a project for the conservation of the Himalayan wolf also know as the Tibetan wolf as it is considered the mother of all wolves. The Nature Conservation Foundation, Mussorie, is keen to develop policy document and action plan that will promote wildlife conservation. Another area which they feel needs immediate attention is better understanding and management of the human and wildlife conflict, which is on the increase due to human interference with their natural habitat. With regard to the snow leopard, efforts would be made to focus on its conservation and recovery programme as it is one of the endangered species. In this regard it is felt that a programme must be developed for wildlife conservation outside the protected areas and promote ecologically responsible development.

Project Snow Leopard Launched

Project Snow Leopard Launched 20 January 2009


Innovative Conservation Project for Indian High Altitudes

Project Operational in Five Himalayan States viz. Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh


Thiru S. Regupathy said that Project Snow Leopard is a manifestation of the Government of India’s resolve to conserve biodiversity with community participation. To give it the same status of importance in the high altitude as that of Tiger in the terrestrial landscape, the ministry is launching the Project Snow Leopard in the country from today. Releasing a document on Project Snow Leopard here today, Mr Regupathy said that Snow Leopard is globally endangered species as well as the most important flagship species of the mountain region. They are at the apex of ecological pyramid suffer the most on account of relatively smaller population size and also because of man-animal conflict. This situation further gets aggravated by the hostile landscape forming its habitat. Referring to its globally endangered species status as well as the most important flagship species of the mountain region, the Minister informed that Snow Leopard has been included in the list of species under Recovery Programme to be funded through the umbrella scheme of integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats. Giving details of there habitat, Sh S Regupathy said there are more than 26 protected areas in the Himalayan landscape where snow leopard is reported. However, areas outside protected areas are equally important for a long range species like Snow Leopard.

Considering these facts, Sh Regupathy added that India is endowed with the unique wildlife assemblage of global importance in Himalayan and Trans Himalayan zones. Thus, implementation of Project Snow Leopard will give an opportunity for the conservation of this unique biodiversity. Stressing on active involvement of local communities, the Minister said application of landscape for conservation, capacity building of staff research on wildlife and human dimension in Snow Leopard habitat, adoptive management of project developing, grazing and management policies along with promotion of conservation and education awareness initiatives etc would require for conservation in these areas.


The biodiversity of the Himalayans includes at least 350 species of mammals, 1200 species of birds, species of amphibians and reptiles, and numerous plants including many with medicinal properties. Over 335 species of wild relatives of cultivated crops are also found in the region. There are numerous biologically important wetlands that form breeding grounds for waterfowl. These areas also provide vital ecosystem services that are important for the dense human populations downstream and in the Indo-Gengetic plans.


The project will be operational in five Himalayan States viz. Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh with active support from wildlife institute of India and the Mysore based Nature Conservation Foundation.


The project stresses on a landscape approach to conservation wherein smaller core zones with relatively conservation values will be identified and conserved with support and the larger landscape will be managed in such a way that it allows necessary development benefits to the local communities. The project thus places greater importance to careful and knowledge-based management planning of the landscapes. The adaptive management planning will involve participation of all key stakeholders so that action is taken by incorporating local wisdom and support. For facilitating effective planning and action, the project will set up enabling administrative mechanisms from the village duster level to the Central Government. At the Central level, a Steering Committee chaired by Director General of Forests & Special Secretary to the Government of India will help guide the project. Each State will have a State Snow Leopard Conservation Society that will coordinate work by the Landscape-level Implementation Committees, which in turn will coordinate work by the village Wildlife Conservation Committees.


The Project Snow Leopard is an Innovative project that would help to arrest species declines in the Indian high altitudes and would lead to conservation based on sound scientific plans and local support. Species such as Snow Leopard, Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Argali, Ladakh Urial, Chiru, Takin, Serow and Musk Deer will particularly benefit from this project.