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Snow leopard photographed in India's Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary for the first time

09/01/2013 10:41:00

The snow leopard photographed with its kill in Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo credit Wildlife Trust of India

Snow leopard study in India
January 2013. The Wildlife Trust of India have recently published the first photographic proof that snow leopard inhabit Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary in India's Himachal Pradesh region.

Very little specific information exists on the snow leopard distribution and population in India. Rough estimates put the population at 400-600 along the Himalayan region in India, and about 4080 - 6590 across the world (12 countries where it is found).

The snow leopard in Kugti WLS was sighted dragging its kill (a young ibex) by researchers - Neeraj Mahar and Sajid Idrisi, during a WTI survey in 2010 to help the Forest Department prepare an inventory of the area's wildlife. It was recorded at an altitude of 3376 metres.

Permanent or temporary residents?
"While this opportunistic sighting by our team established snow leopard presence in Kugti, it raised a number of questions. Is Kugti WLS and nearby protected areas a snow leopard habitat? Or do they follow the prey to lower altitudes during winter, possibly from Lahaul or other nearby areas? This can only be verified with further focused studies," said Dr Rahul Kaul, Chief Ecologist, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), one of the authors of the recent study.

Five states, three in the western Himalayan region - Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and two in the north-eastern region - Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, are known to host snow leopards in India.

Snow leopard habitat
"Snow leopards inhabit the non-forested zone above the tree line - around 3,200 metres in the western Himalayas and around 4,200 metres in the eastern Himalayas, going over the Greater Himalayan crest into the Trans Himalayan region," explained Dr Yash Veer Bhatnagar of the Snow Leopard Trust and Nature Conservation Foundation, adding that the common leopards are ‘replaced' by snow leopards in these areas.

"However, there is not yet any concrete range distribution map for the species in India. While there is some developing information about snow leopard from the Trans Himalaya, information from the southern face of the Himalaya is very scarce. Such information (sighting thus becomes even more useful," he added.

A recently-published paper has recommended further studies to help generate baseline information for conservation of this endangered species.

The snow leopard is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and is classified as ‘endangered' by the IUCN Red List. Yet, as other carnivores in India, it is threatened due to conflicts with people, retaliatory attacks, prey depletion due to competition with livestock and hunting, poaching, and unplanned development in their habitat.

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