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Camera trap survey shows presence of snow leopards in Arunachal

DH News Service, MUMBAI: Oct 19 2017, 12:26 IST
A snow leopard captured through camera trap method in one of the community-protected areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

A snow leopard captured through camera trap method in one of the community-protected areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

A recent study by the World Wildlife Federation-India on snow leopards has yielded photo evidence of the elusive species in Arunachal Pradesh, a state resplendent with biodiversity and yet largely unexplored.

The evidence is particularly significant, given that large natural areas in the state fall under the custodianship of local communities whose support is crucial to protect the species and its habitat. The species was photographed by a camera trap set up at Thembang, a community conserved area in the state. Only a fraction of the snow leopard habitat in the state comes under two protected areas, Dibang Biosphere Reserve and Namdapha National Park.

The presence of the big cat beyond these protected areas highlights the importance of community support for conservation as well as landscape-scale conservation planning. The statewide survey, carried out by WWF-India in collaboration with the Arunachal Pradesh forest department, was conducted from March 2017, focusing on unexplored areas, a press statement said.

“This, perhaps, is the first time that the presence of snow leopards has been reported through a camera trap photograph from Arunachal Pradesh. The findings of this survey will help develop conservation plans for the iconic species of the region, primarily snow leopards,” said Omkar Singh, PCCF and principal secretary, department of environment and forests, Arunachal Pradesh.

The survey is based on the knowledge of community members and will help understand the current distribution of snow leopards and other large mammals. Researchers, including trained local youth, interviewed herders and former hunters who provided detailed information on snow leopards in the state as well as their prey species. Over 80% of the interviewees confirmed the presence of snow leopards in their area.

The research team deployed camera traps in select areas to document the species and obtained a photograph of a snow leopard in the community conserved area. The survey is significant as it covers one of the 22 priority landscapes of the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Programme. Findings of the survey will enable the forest department to develop a snow leopard conservation plan to address increasing threats such as retaliatory killings and climate change-induced impact on the habitat. It will also help plan for infrastructure development.

Rishi Kumar Sharma, senior coordinator, species and landscapes programme, WWF-India, said, “This survey has enhanced our knowledge on the distribution of snow leopards and their prey species for Arunachal Pradesh. It will help in better conservation and management of the species.”

Ravi Singh, secretary general and CEO, WWF-India, said, "Scientific information on the distribution of snow leopards generated through this survey is an encouraging sign. We appreciate the involvement of local communities."

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