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.

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.