Race to save vulnerable Snow Leopard in J&K

  • Arif Shafi Wani
  • Publish Date: Jul 29 2019 3:48AM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 29 2019 3:48AM
Race to save vulnerable Snow Leopard in J&KFile Photo

With population of Snow Leopard under threat due to various factors in Jammu and Kashmir, state government has launched various measures for its long term conservation.   

Snow leopard is one of the elusive and rare wild animal species. Jammu and Kashmir, with a potential habitat of 77,800-km2, is the largest continuous habitat for the snow leopard in India, occupying 60 percent of its national distribution range

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies Snow Leopard as vulnerable. Last year the Union Ministry of Environment listed the species among 10 critically-endangered animals which are on the verge of extinction in India particularly in Jammu & Kashmir. The snow leopard is mostly found in its bastion—the upper reaches of Ladakh and Gurez Valley. 

Experts enumerate various factors for declining population of Snow leopard including retaliatory killings for livestock depredation, poaching, habitat fragmentation, increased human interference in its habitat. 

Snow leopards play a key role as both top predator and as an indicator of the health of their high-altitude habitat. 

With its endeavour to save the existing population of Snow Leopards, the state government has launched maiden mapping of its habitat to evolve conservation measures of the leopard, its prey species and habitats. 

The study is conducted by the Division of Wildlife sciences, SKUAST Kashmir in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India and Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K under the pioneer study funded by the International Snow Leopard Trust.

“The study states that Gurez, Tulail and Sindh are high potential Snow Leopard distribution areas whereas Kajinag is a moderately potential snow leopard site in Kashmir valley. The Gurez, Tulail and Sindh being connected to the Trans-Himalayas, country’s best snow leopard area, further increase its importance in snow leopard conservation,” said Dr Khursheed, the Project Principal Investigator and Head, Division of Wildlife Sciences, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences Kashmir. 

He said the major prey species for the Snow Leopard in Gurez-Tulail and Sindh are ibex, musk deer and marmots whereas Kajinag offers markhor and musk deer.

Elaborating he said livestock grazing accompanied with herders and the herding dogs is happening across these Snow Leopard habitats, disturbing the prey species. “It was surprising to see the contrasting effects of prevailing security situation on Snow Leopard. In areas such as Sindh, shepherds used to hire hunters to kill Snow Leopard for livestock depredation, which has reduced due to security concern.”  

Dr Khursheed said in Gurez-Tulail, which is close to Line of Control, haphazard constructions have disturbed the Snow Leopard habitat resulting in decline of the endangered species. 

He said the research was initiated with an aim to establish the first baseline information on the status and distribution of snow leopard and its prey in Kashmir region

"In this backdrop, the State needs to play a critical role in the conservation of this charismatic species in India. While there have been significant developments in research and conservation initiatives on snow leopard in Ladakh, basic understanding of the distribution of snow leopard and its prey remains poor for the Kashmir region,” Dr Khursheed added.

He said Climate Change indirectly affects Snow Leopard. "Reducing of alpine meadows productivity and shifting of tree line shifts upward also affects the Snow Leopard," he said.

In 2010, the state government had started work on an ambitious project to save the existing population of the endangered Snow Leopard in its bastion, Ladakh. 

Regional Wildlife Warden Ladakh, Sajad Sultan said several centrally sponsored projects for conservation of Snow Leopard are being implemented in Hemis National Park, Changthang wildlife Sanctuary, Karokaram wildlife sanctuary. 

"We are surveying population and habitat of Snow Leopard on Leh and Kargil. For the purpose we have done radio collaring. We are also taking measures to reduce man-animal conflict involving Snow Leopard," Sultan said.    

"For saving the Snow Leopard, it is imperative to involve locals. We are promoting home stays for foreign tourists who throng Ladakh to see Snow Leopard in its natural habitat."