As the snow leopard population across the world dwindles, tribal Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh (HP) in India offers a ray of hope with a forest guard capturing images of a snow leopard having two cubs. This suggests an increase in their population. There are 25 to 30 snow leopards in Kibber wildlife sanctuary of Spiti. The snow leopard, state animal of Himachal Pradesh, has been listed as vulnerable in the Red List of International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN), because its global population is estimated to be less than 10,000 mature individuals. Also, a 10% decline has been predicted in the next 23 years. As of 2016, the global population was estimated at 4,500 to 8,745 mature individuals.
South zone chief conservator of forests (wildlife) S K Kapta said sighting of an entire family of snow leopards, including two cubs by a forest guard shows their number is increasing in Spiti Valley. He said a conservation project launched by the department, in association with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, is showing positive results.
Earlier, snow leopards were rarely spotted in Spiti valley. “It was a known fact that snow leopards are present in Spiti but there was no proof. However, images of an entire family captured on trap camera shows that their population is increasing,” he said.
According to Kapta, at present, the exact population of snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh is not known. To ascertain the exact population of snow leopards in the state, the department has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nature Conservation Foundation, which has been asked to do a survey to ascertain the figures.
In the next three years, the Nature Conservation Foundation will conduct a survey in the snow leopard landscape of the state, including the right bank of Satluj, right and left banks of Chanderbhaga River in Lahaul-Spiti district up to Pangi.
In HP, the state wildlife department and Nature Conservation Foundation have collaborated to generate sound scientific knowledge in Spiti Valley, one of India’s most important snow leopard landscapes. These two agencies have been leading research and conservation efforts in the snow leopard range at Spiti.
The state forest department and nature conservation foundation have also prepared a detailed landscape and participatory management plan for the Spiti wildlife division. The Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Centre in Kibber village has given a boost to snow leopard research and conservation in the country with the goal of instituting and encouraging focused short and long-term studies.
Important questions of snow leopard conservation relate to estimates of its population, area needed for each animal (as per its age-sex), determinants of range quality in terms of prey availability, topography and disturbance and their ability to move across human and natural barriers. (Times of India)