India’s forest minister Prakash Javadekar launched country’s first national protocol for enumerating the population of snow leopards, an elusive predator found in the higher reaches of the Himalayas and other mountain ranges of Asia, on 23 October 2019.
“Enumeration of tigers was a difficult task 20 years ago but we made it possible. India now has 77% of the world’s tiger population. I am sure, with the cooperation of the range countries, the population of snow leopards will also be doubled in the coming decade,” Javadekar said at the fourth steering committee meeting of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Program on International Snow Leopard Day, celebrated on 23 October.
Although no count of the endangered big cats have been conducted, estimates provided by various organisations working on snow leopard conservation suggest that there could be around 400- 700 of the predators spread across Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
An official at the union ministry of environment and forest said on condition of anonymity that around 500 of these cats could be in the Ladakh region alone.
“India is extremely keen on snow leopard conservation,… but better ecosystem (management) and more intervention in creating a better habitat for the snow leopard is what we should strive for. It is extremely important to conserve the pristine habitat of the snow leopard because these mountain ranges are also the source of water for us,” said CK Mishra, union environment and forest secretary.
According to the Javadekar, India is now home to around 512 lions, 30,000 elephants and 2,500 one-horned rhinoceros. The number of tigers in the country has also shot up to 2,967 from 2226 in 2014, according to the latest census figures.
An expert welcomed the protocol launched by the minister to count the snow leopards.
“This is an excellent initiative. Till date we hardly have any concrete data on their population. Only recently, some scientific studies have started for the conservation of this vulnerable species,” said Raman Sukumar, a member of the National Board for Wildlife
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the population of snow leopards is decreasing and only estimated 2,700-3300 adults are left in the wild. Climate change, shrinking habitat because of human activity and poaching are cited as some of the reasons for the decline.
According to the protocol, India will follow a two-step procedure to count these elusive cats – systematically assessing the spatial distribution of snow leopards and estimating their numbers through camera trapping and genetic evidence. According to senior officials of the ministry, this protocol could also be later used by other range countries
“India has the example and experience of enumerating its tiger population. Many of these experiences would be common for the snow leopard as well,” said Mishra. (Hindustan Times)