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Snow leopards mapped with camera traps: WWF

A pilot project of installing camera traps to map endangered snow leopards has yielded "positive" results in North Sikkim as photos of the elusive animal has been spotted at four places, WWF-India said. The snow leopard is a Schedule I animal unde...

Updated: Jan 28, 2016, 06.33 PM IST
A snow leopard with her cub. (File photo)
A snow leopard with her cub. (File photo)
NEW DELHI: A pilot project of installing camera traps to map endangered snow leopards has yielded "positive" results in North Sikkim as photos of the elusive animal has been spotted at four places, WWF-India said.

WWF-India said that the photographs captured through the project, aimed at understanding the presence of snow leopards in the region and prepare a management plan has provided the "first ever" tangible evidence of their existence in the region.

Apart from this, it has also helped capture other mountain wildlife such as the rare pallas cat, blue sheep and the Tibetan argali.

The snow leopard, a species of the high altitudes, is a Schedule I animal under Wildlife Protection Act of India and is listed as "endangered" by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

WWF-India said that the information on the distribution of this elusive cat is scanty and its current range is "poorly" mapped mainly due to the high and inhospitable terrain.

"Addressing retaliatory killing of snow leopards due to livestock depredation, managing the population of free ranging dogs and securing livelihoods of local communities, especially by targeting the community resilience towards climate-induced changes are the pillars of our conservation efforts in this region," said Dipankar Ghose, director of the Species and Landscapes programme.

Since 2006, WWF-India has been working in Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to understand the snow leopard's status and distribution in India.

In Sikkim, the exercise of setting up camera traps began in 2015 under the project "Conservation and Adaptation in Asia's High Mountains". As part of a larger programme funded by USAID in six Asian snow leopard range countries, this project aims at developing climate-smart snow leopard conservation plans, the wildlife body said.

"The camera trap study will be implemented across the entire potential distribution range in Sikkim in multiple phases. Several local youths from the village of Lachen who are engaged in this exercise, have been enthused and motivated by the latest findings," WWF-India said.

The body said that this is the first attempt to fill the vast gaps in the knowledge on snow leopards at this important snow leopard habitat.

Conservation efforts for these animals in India have so far largely been restricted to the Western Himalayas while the snow leopards in Sikkim are contiguous with its populations in Nepal, making it one of the key habitats for ensuring the animal's long term survival in the Eastern Himalayas, it said.

WWF-India said that it is using a multifaceted approach of enhancing the ecological understanding of the habitat needs of snow leopards and engaging with the local communities as stewards of conservation.

"Recognizing the need to engage with multiple stakeholders at multiple levels, WWF-India is working with the Indian armed forces to raise awareness on the fragile ecology of the Himalayas and involving them in wildlife monitoring programmes.

"Together with the Lachen Dzumsa and the Lachen Tourism Development Committee, WWF-India is also initiating several natural resource management practices with a strong focus on waste management. Responsible tourism is being promoted in the region to reduce pressures on the snow leopard habitats," it said.

The ongoing intensive camera trap study is expected to be completed by 2017 and will provide the first-ever baseline data on the status of snow leopards, their wild prey base, and the threats that snow leopards face in Sikkim.

"This information will be useful for formulating snow leopard conservation management plan for the state under the Project Snow Leopard of the Indian government. It will also be of immense value to the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Programme with Khangchendzonga being one of the key landscapes for this programme," it said.
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