718 Snow Leopards in India, says first-ever scientific exercise

New Delhi: Camera traps deployed at 1,971 locations for 180,000 trap nights during SPAI exercise

BY | Tuesday, 30 January, 2024

There are 718 snow leopards in India according to the Status of Snow Leopards in India. The Union Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav released the report during the National Board for Wildlife meeting on Tuesday.

The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Program is the first-ever scientific exercise in India. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is the National Coordinator for this exercise that was carried out with the support of all snow leopard range states and two conservation partners, the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and WWF-India.

According to the SPAI report, Ladakh has the highest population of the species with 477.  Uttarakhand follows with 124, Himachal Pradesh with 51, Arunachal Pradesh has 36, Sikkim 21, and Jammu and Kashmir has 9.

The SPAI systematically covered over 70 per cent or approximately 120,000km2 of crucial Snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region. The exercise was conducted from 2019 to 2023 using a meticulous two-step framework. The first step involved evaluating Snow leopard spatial distribution, incorporating habitat covariates into the analysis, aligning with the guidelines of the National population assessment of snow leopards in India by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2019.

During the SPAI exercise, total efforts included: 13,450 km of trails surveyed for recording Snow leopard signs, while camera traps were deployed at 1,971 locations for 180,000 trap nights. The snow leopard occupancy was recorded in 93,392 km2, with an estimated presence in 100,841 km2. A total of 241 unique Snow leopards were photographed.  Based on data analysis, the estimated population in different states are as follows:

Until recent years, the snow leopard range in India was undefined due to a lack of extensive nationwide assessments for this vulnerable species. Before 2016, approximately one-third of the range (around ca. 100,347 km2) received minimal research attention, reduced to just 5% in pockets like Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. Recent status surveys have significantly increased understanding, providing preliminary information for 80% of the range (about 79,745 km2), compared to 56% in 2016. To gather robust information on Snow leopard numbers, the SPAI exercise surveyed habitats using a substantial network of camera traps.

The report also mentions the need for establishing 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. Consistent monitoring is essential to ensuring Snow leopards’ long-term survival. For the same, states and UTs can consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach (every 4th year) in the Snow leopard range. These regular assessments will offer valuable insights for identifying challenges, addressing threats, and formulating effective conservation strategies.

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