Snow Leopard conservation efforts must continue

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Despite the fact that snow leopards are not considered ‘endangered’ anymore since the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has pegged down its category a step below to just being “vulnerable” one must continue all efforts towards preservation and conservation of the species.

The beautiful and elusive cat is rarely seen in the higher reaches of the snow-capped Himalayas, above the tree line, in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Snow leopards prefer the high terrain as it provides good cover and clear view to help them sneak up on their prey.

Because its habitat is in high mountains its population figures are only guesstimate around 4,700 to 8,700 worldwide. The Snow Leopard Trust however says that the figure could be as low as 6,390. With dwindling habitat and loss of natural prey the snow leopards are today coming into conflict with humans as they have started preying on livestock and facing retaliatory attacks from villagers.

Poachers are also a major threat to snow leopards and between 2008-2016 there has been one leopard killed and traded every day – 220-450 cats every year. About 20 percent snow leopards are supposed to be killed for their fur and traded illegally.

The Snow Leopard Trust has opposed this status change of snow leopards from endangered to vulnerable.
It says that downgrading was done without scientifically valid procedures being followed for estimating snow leopard population. It’s urging for IUCN to revisit the decision because conservation action might become harder to justify politically if there is a belief that the cat’s situation has improved.

The Snow leopard is the State animal of Himachal Pradesh, and snow leopard conservation is being undertaken in the state under the Project Snow Leopard aided by Nature Conservation Foundation (Mysore) and Ministry of Environment and Forest government of India.

The Wildlife Wing, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD) and the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore (NCF) have also prepared a detailed landscape based and participatory Management Plan for the entire Spiti Wildlife Division where most Snow Leopards are found.

The four year Snow Leopard Project for Rs 5.15 Crores aims to set up Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Centre, a world class field-based snow leopard research and conservation facility in the Spiti Valley. It would also undertake India’s first comprehensive and long-term radio-collaring project on snow leopards and their prey. The research and training centre proposed to be set up for snow leopard conservation will have necessary infrastructure to carry out state-of-art research programs.