India home to 718 snow leopards; 241 caught on camera

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India home to 718 snow leopards; 241 caught on camera

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New Delhi, There are 718 snow leopards in India, as per a report on the Status of Snow Leopards in India released by Union Minister of Environment and Forest Bhupender Yadav on Tuesday.

The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Programme is the first-ever scientific exercise that reports a snow leopard population of 718 in India, an official added.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said that 241 unique snow leopards were photographed. Based on data analysis, the estimated population in different states is: Ladakh (477), Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9), the official said.

The Ministry said that the SPAI systematically covered over 70 per cent of the potential snow leopard range in the country, involving forest and wildlife staff, researchers, volunteers, and contributions from knowledge partners.

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Covering approximately 120,000 km of snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region, including the UTs of Ladakh and J and K, and states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, the SPAI exercise was conducted from 2019 to 2023 using a meticulous two-step framework.

The Ministry said that the first step involved evaluating snow leopard spatial distribution, incorporating habitat covariates into the analysis, aligning with the guidelines of the national population assessment of snow leopards in India by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2019.

During the SPAI exercise, the total efforts included: 13,450 km of trails surveyed for recording snow leopard signs, while camera traps were deployed at 1,971 locations for 180,000 trap nights. The snow leopard occupancy was recorded in 93,392 km, with an estimated presence in 100,841 km.

Until recent years, the snow leopard range in India was undefined due to a lack of extensive nationwide assessment for this vulnerable species. Before 2016, approximately one-third of the range (around ca. 100,347 km2) received minimal research attention, reduced to just 5 per cent in pockets like Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh, the official added.

The Ministry said that recent status surveys have significantly increased understanding, providing preliminary information for 80 per cent of the range (about 79,745 km), compared to 56 per cent in 2016. To gather robust information on snow leopard numbers, the SPAI exercise surveyed habitats using a substantial network of camera traps.

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The report also mentions the need for establishing a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at WII under the MoEFCC with the primary focus on long-term population monitoring, supported by well-structured study designs and consistent field surveys. Constant monitoring is essential to ensure the snow leopards' long-term survival, the official added.

For this, the states and UTs can consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach (every 4th year) in the snow leopard range. These regular assessments will offer valuable insights for identifying challenges, addressing threats, and formulating effective conservation strategies.
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