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After Tiger, can India double its snow leopard population?

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New Delhi, Oct 29: After Tiger, India has launched its first national protocol to assess the population of Snow leopard, elusive and endangered species in the country. It has developed a centrally-supported programme called Project Snow Leopard for the conservation of the species and its habitats.

Image credit: PTI

Where are snow leopards found?

Snow leopards live in the mountainous regions of central and southern Asia. In India, their geographical range encompasses a large part of the western Himalayas including the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas. The last three states form part of the Eastern Himalayas, according to WWF.

Image of 'camouflaged snow leopard’ goes viral on social media, can you spot it?

Snow leopards prefer steep, rugged terrains with rocky outcrops and ravines. This type of habitat provides good cover and clear view to help them sneak up on their prey. They are found at elevations of 3,000-5,000 metres or higher in the Himalayas.

Aim to double existing numbers

Countries must strive to double the population of snow leopards in the next 10 years, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.

"Enumeration of tigers was a difficult thing till 20 years ago, but now we have counted them accurately. This year, India has counted 2,967 tigers 77 per cent of the world's tiger population. We did this with 26,000 camera traps and many other instrumental methodologies were used to enumerate tiger population to the near exact number," he said.

India may have 400-700 snow leopards across Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh alone is home to nearly 400 snow leopards, the maximum in the country.

Challenges

Human intervention into the mountainous areas with their livestock, the snow leopards' habitat is getting boxed in, degraded and fragmented by increasing human intrusion. Another major challenge for the protection of snow leopards is poaching for their pelts. Their bones and other body parts are also in demand for use in traditional Asian medicines.

The snow leopard is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN-World Conservation Union's Red List of the Threatened Species. In addition, the snow leopard, like all big cats, is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which makes trading of animal body parts illegal in signatory countries. It is also protected by several national laws in its range countries.

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