Camera traps give hope for snow leopard in Kashmir

Wildlife experts are enthused by the first record of the elusive cat from the Baltal-Zojila region

Updated - November 22, 2022 12:27 pm IST

Published - November 06, 2022 11:25 am IST - Guwahati

Image for representational purpose only.

Image for representational purpose only.

The first-ever recording of the snow leopard from the Baltal-Zojila region has renewed the hope for the elusive predator in the higher altitudes of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Camera trapping exercises by researchers from Nature Conservation Foundation (India), partnering J&K’s Department of Wildlife Protection, also raised hopes for other important and rare species such as the Asiatic ibex, brown bear and Kashmir musk deer in the upper reaches of the northernmost part of India.

“It is the first record of snow leopard from the Baltal-Zojila area. In fact, we have very limited records of the presence of snow leopards across J&K,” Munib Khanyari, programme manager at NCF (India) told The Hindu on November 6.

Also Read | How to spot a snow leopard in its natural habitat

But not much is known about the number of snow leopards in J&K and Ladakh.

“The Snow Leopard Population Assessment of India (SPAI) has been concluded so far in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The estimated population of the great cat is 50 and 100 in these two States respectively,” he said.

The Department of Wildlife Protection has been conducting surveys with partner NGOs to understand presence and abundance of snow leopards under the SPAI project funded by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change.

According to wildlife experts, the iconic and culturally treasured snow leopard is a good indicator species as it quickly reacts to habitat disturbances and its successful conservation requires sustainable long-term systemic solutions to the threats impacting the quality of habitats.

Also Read | Call of the wild: India plans first-ever snow leopard survey

Various teams have been conducting surveys across the near 12,000 sq. km potential snow leopard of J&K for a few years now covering the Gurez, Thajwas, Baltal-Zojila, Warwan, and Kishtwar landscapes.

Snow leopard surveys have often focused in neighbouring areas of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The survey was expanded to the Baltal-Zojila region of Kashmir recently, Mr Khanyari said.

“This finding brings renewed hope to Kashmir and its high-altitude regions, as the presence of the snow leopard can be used as a conservation flagship to address high-mountain development issues for people and the environment,” he said.

More such findings from the ongoing surveys are expected from these landscapes, he added.

“Apart from the camera-trapping of the Asiatic ibex, brown bear, Kashmir musk deer and other rare species, the survey has yielded incredible information on the other biodiversity components of such habitats, interactions and threats to be documented in the shape of a final report,” Mr Khanyari said.

His team involved Aashiq Dar from Tangmarg (Baramula), Aijaz Raina from Sarbal (near Sonamarg), Tanzin Thuktan, Rinchen Tobge and Kesang Chunit from Kibber (Himachal Pradesh). The exercise was under the supervision of Suresh Kumar Gupta, Chief Wildlife Warden and Rashid Y. Naqash, Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir.

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