Bhutan priority area for snow leopard conservation

A snow leopard visits its relic site in Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan. This is a spot where it repeatedly marks its territory. (Photo: Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF)
A snow leopard visits its relic site in Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan. This is a spot where it repeatedly marks its territory. (Photo: Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF)

Identifying Bhutan as one of the rarest sanctuaries for the endangered snow leopard, the world community and the conservationists have put the country in the top priority of the global action plan to protect the animal.

Bhutan is one of the 12 countries in Asia that harbour Snow leopard population in its natural habitat. About 100-200 leopards are expected to be surviving in a potential range of 10,000 sq km. Studies show that these wild cats are disappearing rapidly from the planet.

Phenomenal new camera-trap footage from Bhutan shows that rare snow leopards and their prey species are thriving in vital protected areas and corridors.

Bhutan is the only country on Earth where the habitat of snow leopards and tigers intersect. It’s unknown how many exist there, but it’s critical to find out as threats are mounting – from retaliatory killing from herders, loss of habitat to farmers and poaching for their pelts. And then there’s climate change.

Musk deer, night-time camera trap image, Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan, October-November 2011 © Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF[+] Warming at high elevations in the Himalayas is causing treelines to ascend and isolating snow leopard populations. If climate change continues unchecked, as much as 30% of the snow leopards’ range could be lost. Their ability to move upslope is limited by oxygen availability.

Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, concluded on Wednesday, adopting a declaration on the conservation of the snow leopard and their habitats.

During the conference, Bhutan and other 12 counties hosting the wildlife acknowledged the need to act now with the resolution and authority to protect and recover snow leopard populations and their fragile habitats.

As part of the action plan, the governments have shared a common goal to intensify conservation efforts in the large landscapes required for snow leopard survival by identifying and designating critical habitats of key snow leopard populations as no-go areas for destructive land uses, maintaining their integrity and connectivity through natural corridors, and strengthening their protection on the ground. The global action plan also aims to control illegal trade of wildlife body parts.

While the poaching of the show leopard has been one of the major challenges for conservationists in Nepal, recent interventions by the government seem to have paid off relatively well. In a bid to discourage people’s retaliatory attacks on the wild animal, the government provides compensation to people who lose their livestock to snow leopards, which often tend to venture out into human settlements in search of prey.

Besides Bhutan, snow leopards are also found in China, India, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.

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