Forest officials wait for report of first-ever snow leopard survey in Arunachal

[ Utpal Boruah ]

ITANAGAR, 14 Aug: Forest officials of Arunachal Pradesh are eagerly waiting for the report of the maiden snow leopard enumeration in the state, which is to be released in October this year.

The estimation of snow leopards is being conducted in the state for the first time with technical support from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), India, a senior officer said.

The assessment for the presence of the elusive species, which started in June last year, was

done in 11 forest divisions located in high altitude and snowfall areas, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Millo Tassar said.

The WWF-India is doing the data analysis of the survey, which has already been completed and the report is likely to be published on 23 October this year to mark the International Snow Leopard Day.

“We are all looking forward to the report,” he said.

Over 200 persons, including state forest department officials and field staffers, besides experts from the WWF-India were engaged in the estimation exercise, which took five months, the senior forest official said.

The golden-eyed animal, having thick fur, padded paws, and a long tail, lives in the mountainous regions of central and southern Asia.

In India, the geographical range of the wild cat species covers a large part of the western Himalayas, including Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal in the eastern Himalayas.

The last three states form part of the eastern Himalayas a priority global region of the WWF and the Living Himalayas Network Initiative.

Snow leopards prefer steep, rugged terrains with rocky outcrops and ravines. This type of habitat provides good cover and a clear view to help them sneak up on their prey.

“We are confident about the presence of a good number of the big cat species in the state,” Tassar said.

The state forest department last year shared photographs of snow leopards captured in camera traps in high-altitude areas of the state.

The camera traps were laid as part of the snow leopard population assessment.

The photographic evidence of the presence of snow leopards was captured from Shi-Yomi district last year, the DCF said.

A WWF study on snow leopards in 2017 yielded photos of the elusive species in Thembang area of West Kameng district.

While locals knew about the presence of snow leopards at Thembang, scientists had not been able to get photographs till 2017.

On the occasion of the International Snow Leopard Day, the union environment, forest & climate change ministry launched the first national protocol on snow leopard population assessment in India in 2019.

The snow leopard is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN-World Conservation Union’s Red List of the threatened species and Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is facing threats to its existence due to poaching and shrinking habitats, officials said.

The endangered predator inhabits the Himalayas at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 metres.

India has launched two conservation efforts, including Project Snow Leopard, which promotes an inclusive and participatory approach to conservation involving local communities.

The other conservation effort is SECURE Himalaya, which is being funded by the Global Environment Facility-United Nations Development Programme. (PTI)