News: First ever survey puts India’s snow leopard count at 718.

The first ever Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) was conducted by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) with the support of all snow leopard range states, and two conservation partners, the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and WWF-India.

The report shows that the highest number of snow leopards is found in Ladakh (477), followed by Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9).

Surveying the snow Leopards:

The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI), conducted over four years (2019-2023) by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) along with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and World Wildlife Fund for Nature-India, focused on assessing snow leopard populations in India.

Camera Traps: Installed camera traps at 1,971 locations across the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh which captured images of 241 unique snow leopards.
Trails surveyed: surveying 13,450 km worth of trails which teams surveyed for recording signs of snow leopards such as scat, hair and other body markers.
Before 2016, only about five per cent of the region in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh was covered. The latest assessment now covers 80 per cent of the area, compared to 56 per cent in 2016.

Status of Snow Leopard and its threats:

▪ The snow leopard is classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and faces threats such from free ranging dogs, human wildlife conflicts, and poaching.
▪ They are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
▪ Status of Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act provides absolute protection and offences under this have the highest penalties.

World Distribution:

▪ According to the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Programme, the total population of snow leopard is estimated between 4000 & 6500.
▪ Snow Leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries with the largest share in the Tibetan plateau of China, followed by Mongolia and India. The other countries include Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Government Initiatives for the conservation:

Himal Sanrakshak: A community volunteer programme “HimalSanrakshak” was launched to protect snow leopards in 2020 for combatting illegal trade in wildlife.
First National Protocol was also launched in 2019 on Snow Leopard Population Assessment exclusively focuses on developing landscape-based management plans, habitat restoration plans, livelihoods improvement, mitigation of wildlife crime and illegal trade in wildlife, human-wildlife conflict mitigation strategies, improving awareness and communications strategies.
SECURE Himalaya: Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the project on the conservation of high-altitude biodiversity and reducing the dependency of local communities on the natural ecosystem.


Snow Leopard Cell: A dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at WII under the MoEFCC is proposed, with a primary focus on long-term population monitoring, supported by well-structured study designs and consistent field surveys.
States and Union territories need to consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach every four years within the snow leopard range to help identify challenges, address threats, and formulate effective conservation strategies.
A revised assessment of the number of snow leopards in India like updating the earlier estimate of 400-700, in light of the global estimate of 4,000-7,500 snow leopards.

Need for the urgent legal protection:

Though the survey showed the improvement from previous years, it is a crucial concern from the report highlights only 34% of their 120,000 square kilometre habitat in India is under legal protection which means around 70% of the habitat are unprotected need to be addressed to maintain the ecosystem since it acts as an indicator of the health of the mountain ecosystem.


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