Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Endangered snow leopard spotted in north Sikkim

Camera trap photographs provided the first ever tangible evidence of snow leopards in the region

New Delhi: For the first time, the snow leopard, an endangered animal, has been found in north Sikkim—a discovery that may give a significant boost to efforts aimed at conservation of the species.

The elusive cat was found in a pilot project by WWF India, a non-governmental organization working for animal conservation, wherein camera traps were set in the north Sikkim plateau. Photographs of the snow leopard have been captured at four different locations in north Sikkim.

Claiming that camera trap photographs have provided the first ever tangible evidence of their existence in the region, WWF India, in a statement, said the camera traps have also captured other mountain animals such as rare pallas cat, blue sheep and the Tibetan argali. The traps also found pictures of free ranging dogs and the areas they move in.

“Addressing retaliatory killing of snow leopards due to livestock depredation, managing the population of free ranging dogs and securing livelihoods of local communities, especially by targeting community resilience towards climate-induced changes are the pillars of our conservation efforts in this region," said Dipankar Ghose, director of the Species and Landscapes programme at WWF India.

According to WWF India, the camera trap study will be implemented across the entire potential distribution range in Sikkim in multiple phases; the project is the first attempt to fill gaps in conservationists’ knowledge of snow leopards in this important habitat.

The complete intensive camera trap study, expected to be completed by 2017, will provide the first-ever baseline data on the status of snow leopards, their wild prey base, and the threats that the snow leopards face in the state of Sikkim. This information will be immensely useful in formulating a proper conservation management plan for the animals.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organization working for animal welfare, snow leopards are an endangered species. As per IUCN’s estimates, the total estimated population in its range countries—Afghanistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, India and others—is between 4,080 and 6,590.

Of those, its population in India is around 200-600. It is also a protected species under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

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