The elusive Snow Leopard caught on camera

Courtesy:  The Ministry of Agriculture & Forests, Bhutan , WWF and Kuensel newspaper

The elusive Snow Leopard caught on camera (You tube video)

Snow leopards disappearing?

The cats’ coming into conflict with humans is the main threat to its population in Bhutan
A preliminary snow leopard prey survey conducted recently at the Wangchuck Centennial Park using camera traps revealed several footages of snow leopards and its prey.Watch another video
The study, worth Nu 2M, World Wildlife Fund officials said would focus on the snow leopard population and their places of existence to help prioritise the best areas for conservation.

WWF conservation director Vijay Moktan said there were no studies done at the park nor were there any local expert who could study snow leopards.

“So we invited wildlife experts from outside,” he said, claiming the study was first of its kind at the park. “These experts trained the local park officials.”

He said their model survey showed that snow leopards mainly found in Himalayan region were gradually disappearing because of poaching and being killed when it came in conflict with humans.

“In Bhutan, however, there’s no pressure from poaching,” Mr Moktan said. “But there exists this conflict with yak herders.”

The survey a Canadian expert WWF’s Dr Rinjan Shrestha conducted suggested that the network of protected areas and corridors was helping them link local snow leopard population.

That, he said would be invaluable to ensuring long-term persistence of snow leopards in the region.

“Warming at high elevations in the Himalayas is causing tree lines to ascend and isolate snow leopard population,” he said. “Under high emission scenario, 30 percent of their range could be lost as their ability to move northward limited by oxygen availability.”

Forestry officials and Bhutanese wildlife conservationist disagree that there are no local experts or study done on snow leopards.

Wildlife Conservation Division’s chief forestry officer Sonam Wangchuk said there were studies and training done in Jigme Dorji National Park in collaboration with the International Snow Leopard Trust, since early 90’s.

Beginning 2003 so far, he said, 117 cases were reported of snow leopard coming into conflict with yak herders mostly in Laya and Lunana, which remain uncompensated.

“Most cases are not reported because there is no compensation,” he said.

The division officials said they had more than 100 camera traps set at various national parks.

Forestry officials said they discouraged and refrained from having wildlife experts from outside.

Division officials talked of a documentary on tigers, which said finding the cats at altitudes between 3,000m and 4,100m in the country meant huge areas of Himalayas, that people did not think were natural places for tigers to live, can now be included in the tiger corridor.

Local forestry officials said this was untrue and that they had known about it much before the documentary was made.

“We had written clarifying about it to the documentary makers, but they denied it,” Sonam Wangchuk said.

From 2008-2010, Bhutan Foundation’s Tshewang Wangchuk conducted extensive snow leopard survey across the country’s mountains, from western Haa to Mela Pass on the Tibetan border in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag as part of his PhD research.

Non-invasive genetics and camera trap evidence, he said, confirmed that the Jigme Dorji National Park was a snow leopard stronghold for Bhutan.

Its density, his report read, however, decreased on moving eastwards across northern Bhutan.

Impacts of climate change on snow leopards, Tshewang Wangchuk said was speculative at the moment for lack of actual data.

“Other proximal threats such as changing human activities and human wildlife interactions are the immediate impacts,” he said, adding it was important to bring benefits of conservation to local communities to ensure their support.

Snow Leopards are large cats native to the mountain ranges of south Asia and central Asia between 3,000 and 5,500 meters.

The cats, generally weighed between 27kg and 75kg and its body length measured about 75 to 130cm, the tail itself measuring about 80 to 100cm.

Besides blue sheep, which is the snow leopard’s main food source in Bhutan, other preys include Tibetan wolf, Himalayan Serow and musk deer.

By Passang Norbu (Kuensel)

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