The number of endangered snow leopards appear to be increasing as more sightings have been reported in the remote, high mountainous areas of Himachal Pradesh even as the survey of the animals has stalled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the census being conducted by the wildlife wing of the forest department and the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru, 52 snow leopards have been identified in 10 selected remote sites in Lahaul, Spiti, Chamba and Kinnaur. The snowy higher mountain ranges here are breeding grounds for the rare feline, also known as the ‘grey ghost’ of the Himalayas.
Covering large areas, wildlife experts have used camera traps, images and pugmarks to trace the elusive cats in Spiti valley and check if they are breeding .
The population of the animals has reportedly increased in the valley since the wildlife wing initiated the Snow Leopard Conservation Project and began monitoring the animals in 2006 as part of measures to conserve their habitat in Spiti valley.
HP is the first state of have initiated a move to protect the animals by setting up the Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Centre.
154 sightings across 10 sites
About 52 animals during the survey were identified from 154 sightings across 10 sites, with the upper Spiti landscape recording the highest number of detections: 13 animals spotted 51 times , while 10 animals were found in the upper Kinnaur regions and six around the villages of Tabo in Spiti.
Pin valley with its treacherous mountain terrain also has a good population of snow leopards, with seven found in 15 detections.
Other places where the cats were spotted included, Bhaga, Chandra, Pin valley and upper Spiti valley in tribal Lahaul and Spiti; upper Kinnaur region and Chitkul valley in Kinnaur district, Lippa Asrang in the upper reaches of Kinnaur and the Great Himalayan National Park as well as the Bharmour in Chamba district.
The snow leopard’s habitat ranges from the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in Lahaul and Spiti to Pangi in Chamba district. The cats are usually found in rugged terrain at altitudes between 9,800 feet and 17,000 feet.
The ambitious project was initiated in January 2018 and expected to be completed by December 2020. However, things slowed down after the Covid-19 outbreak since March.
Field work completed
“ As of March 2020, we have completed field work and gathering of primary data from 10 sites across the state for population estimation of snow leopard using camera traps and double observer surveys for assessing the population of wild prey” says principal chief conservator wildlife Archana Sharma.
After the survey was halted due risk of spread of Covid-19, “our team is geared to resume work as planned in the project proposal once the situation improves,” she addes.
The wildlife wing had trained 73 frontline staff for the survey.
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