The adjective used most often for the snow leopard is “elusive". For good reason. Found primarily in the mountainous regions of central and southern Asia, wildlife lovers consider themselves lucky if they actually spot one—so well does it camouflage itself in its surroundings. But this also makes it hard to track and study this enchanting high-altitude cat. Conservationists, however, want a census conducted to ascertain how many exist.

On the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day, 12 countries have committed themselves to conducting a snow leopard head count. To be done under the aegis of the Global Snow leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), the aim of the exercise is to help the species double its population, whatever it turns out to be. Estimates do exist. The World Wide Fund for Nature, for example, believes that the planet has just 6,390 of these cats in their natural habitat. Needless to say, they are vulnerable to extinction. Climate change is said to be forcing them to migrate as well, which only adds to the anxiety over their survival.

But how are they to be counted? Their natural habitat, up in the mountains, is usually out of easy human reach. Drones could be employed, but their camouflage would complicate the task of identifying each of them uniquely. Bhutan, for example, has tried using camera traps, radio collaring and hair-and-scat identification. Now, with 12 countries involved, modern technology might help do the best job yet. Here’s hoping we have a reliable count at the end of the project. But conservation efforts need not wait for it.

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