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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

India Completes its First Ever Snow Leopard Survey

An estimated 718 of the big cats are thought to live in the country’s Himalayan mountains

Photo credit: Snow leopard in Uttarakhand. Munsiyari ©Theo WWF Centre for Pastoralism

In an exciting piece of news from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India has completed its first ever snow leopard assessment. The assessment will help researchers understand the importance of the leopards in the environment and their role in the ecosystem. A collaboration between World Wide Fund for Nature-India, the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru, and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the study is the first of its kind and has underscored the critical role the Himalayas play as a refuge for the big cats.

Photo credit: Snow leopard in Uttarakhand. Munsiyari ©Theo WWF Centre for Pastoralism

‘India's study marks a leap forward, not just for the 718 majestic cats counted, but for conservation itself,’ said Dechen Dorji, senior director for Asia, Wildlife Conservation. ‘This landmark effort, spanning vast and rugged Himalayan terrain, provides crucial data to guide their protection. It's a triumph of collaboration, perseverance, and scientific rigor, offering immense hope for safeguarding this elusive protector of the High Himalayas.’ 

Photo credit: Snow leopard in Sikkim.

Snow leopards can be found across 12 countries in Asia. Their total population is 4,000-6,500, with 10%-15% residing in India. China is home to 60% of their habitat, but the range they cover in India has remained largely unexplored until now. The survey covered a huge 107,594km, deploying about 2,000 camera traps and producing thousands of photos. 241 unique snow leopards were caught on camera, leading to the estimated 718 across all six regions covered. Being the first of its kind, the study required a huge amount of preparation during which 13,450km of trail was surveyed to record any signs of the cats. They were captured on camera in 93,392km of their potential habitat.  

Photo credit: Snow leopard in Arunachal

The high Himalayas are not an easy place to study, particularly when it comes snow leopards. The species has evolved for millennia to adapt to life in the mountains, which are home to some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Nevertheless, snow leopards play a crucial role as a top predator and are a key indicator of how climate change is affecting mountain environments. If they thrive, so will other species in the largest freshwater reserves on the planet. It is vital that they are protected, and the survey will provide conservationists with the information they need to ensure their safety for years to come.


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