Snow leopards galore in Bhutan

Camera traps by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have captured over 10,000 images of snow leopards in Wangchuck Centennial Park in Bhutan, adjoining forests in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

A Snow leopard camera-trapped by WWF at Bhutan adjoining India border.

This is the first pictorial evidence that snow leopards, which are found in good numbers in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, also thrive in Wangchuck Park, a vital corridor between Jigme Dorji National Park in the West and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the East.

The first-ever snow leopard prey survey in Bhutan’s newest national park revealed an astonishing footage of snow leopards scent-marking, a sub-adult snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, threatened Himalayan serow, musk deer and a healthy population of blue sheep, the main food source for snow leopards.

The automatic cameras were set up to locate snow leopard “hot-spots.”  In addition to snow leopard images, they also captured images and footage of Tibetan wolf, wild dog, red fox, blue sheep, Himalayan serow, musk deer, Black Pika (recently discovered mammal in the sub continent), pheasants and several birds of prey.

“The findings are phenomenal as these are the first snow leopard images recorded in Wangchuck Centennial Park,” said WWF’s Dr Rinjan Shrestha, who led the survey.

“It suggests that the network of protected areas and corridors is helping to link local snow leopard populations, which will be invaluable to ensure long-term persistence of snow leopards in the region.”

Snow leopards are elusive and endangered, with around 4,500-7,500 in the wild. Bhutan is the only country where the habitat of snow leopards and tigers intersect.

However, the number of snow leopards remains unknown.

Experts views

But experts believe that it’s critical to find out their numbers as the threats are mounting—from retaliatory killing by herders, loss of habitat to farmers and poaching for their pelts. And then there’s climate change. Warming at high altitudes in the Himalayas is causing treelines to ascend, isolating snow leopard populations. Under a high emission scenario, as much as 30 per cent of their range could be lost. Their ability to move upslope is limited due to drop in oxygen.

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