Wildlife & Biodiversity

India has 718 snow leopards; most of them live in unprotected areas: Centre

Government report emphasises need for a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 30 January 2024
A Snow Leopard in Hemis National Park, Ladakh. Photo: iStock

There are 718 snow leopards in India. However, only a third of their habitat is under legal protection, showed a report released by the Government of India and non-profit organisations on January 30, 2024.

Only 34 per cent of the 120,000 square kilometre (sq km) snow leopard habitat in India legally protected. Almost 70 per cent of it, crucial for the predator, remains unprotected, Status Report of Snow Leopards in India noted.

The report emphasised the need for a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). Its objective should be long-term population monitoring, organised studies and consistent field surveys.

“For the same, states and Union territories (UT) can consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach (every fourth year) in the snow leopard range. These regular assessments will offer valuable insights for identifying challenges, addressing threats, and formulating effective conservation strategies,” the report said.

It also underscored the need to make a revised assessment from the earlier estimate of 400-700 snow leopards in India, among the 4,000-7,500 estimated to be present across the globe.

Counting snow leopards

The assessment was conducted by The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) over four years (2019-2023). WII is the national coordinator for SPAI. It also has two partners: the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and World Wildlife Fund for Nature-India.

Researchers installed camera traps at 1,971 locations spread across the UTs of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, and states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.

The camera traps captured 241 unique individuals.

According to the report, the highest number of snow leopards (listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List) are in Ladakh (477). It is followed by Uttarakhand (124 animals) and Himachal Pradesh (51). Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir recorded 21 and nine individuals respectively.

Snow leopard occupancy was recorded in 93,392 sq km, with an estimated presence in 100,841 sq km, the report said.

It noted that the first systematic surveys of snow leopards started in the 1980s, extending towards the western Himalayas — particularly in Ladakh and later in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

A press statement issued by the MoEF&CC stated that snow leopard range in India remained undefined due to lack of an extensive nationwide analysis.

Only five per cent or one-third of the region located in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh was covered before 2016. The latest figures inform the range for 80 per cent area, compared to 56 per cent in 2016.

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