Himachal Wildlife Wing to Expand Snow Leopard Conservation Program in Kinnaur, Chamba

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The growing population of incredibly rare snow leopards – also known as the Himalayan gray ghost – in the remote Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh has brought cheers for wildlife enthusiasts. Now, the Forestry Department’s wildlife wing is looking to expand the snow leopard conservation program to the Kinnaur Tribal District – home to a small population of snow leopards.

More snow leopards have been spotted in remote villages in the Spiti Valley this winter.

“Maybe due to the increase in the use of electronic gadgets, there are more sightings, but gray ghosts are attracting more tourists this time,” says Tsering Bodh Sakya, a tourism entrepreneur in Kaza.

“A greater reliance of tourism on wildlife might not be good in the future as it will lead to behavioral changes in the animal which is shy in nature,” he added.

Recently, three snow leopards were spotted on the road from Langcha village to Kaza, photos of which were widely shared on social media platforms.

“I had been to Langcha and on my way back I could see three snow leopards waiting to attack a herd of ibexes that were entering a gorge to quench their thirst. I clicked on the photos and shared them on my social media account. I received several calls from people curious to know more about the snow leopards,” said Ajay Banyal, Deputy Public Relations Manager, Kaza Administration.

The village of Kibber in Spiti is one of the snow leopards’ favorite habitats. The Forestry Department’s wildlife wing released a survey report last year, which said there were around 73 big cats in the Himalayan state.

The survey also revealed that much of snow leopard occurrence is outside of protected areas, reiterating that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes. .

“Frequent leopard sightings are a good sign. It shows that the local communities co-exist with the feral cats,” said Kaza Divisional Forest Officer Hardev Negi.

“We intend to map more areas. There is a basic prey value for the elusive leopards in abundance. The areas have a good population of ibexes and blue sheep, the two main prey of leopards,” he added.

Incidents of leopards attacking domestic animals in the Spiti area have also become rare. No such incident of a snow leopard attacking a domestic animal has been discovered in the past two years.

Previously, the attacks were more numerous, says Lara Tsering, a local resident. “We also don’t remember killing leopards in retaliation by locals. This is a sign that there is enough prey for the animal. More locals are now joining snow leopard viewing tours,” Tsering said.

Snow leopards are becoming a source of income for the inhabitants of the cold desert. Thirty young people from the Spiti Valley have been trained at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Mountaineering Institute in Manali. They earn about 1,000 to 1,500 from each tour group for guiding them on leopard-spotting trips.

“During winters, more and more wildlife enthusiasts visit Spiti to watch snow leopards. These tours are a good source of income for us,” said Chhering Tashi, a resident of Kibber village located 14 200 feet elevation.

Tashi studied snow leopard habitat in the area for three years. “Actually, the community here is Buddhist. They never hunted wild animals. They have learned to coexist with them,” he added.

Senior Chief Conservator of the Forestry Department’s wildlife wing, Rajiv Kumar, said they have come up with a proposal to extend the snow leopard conservation program to Kinnaur district, as well as Chamba .

“The sighting of the snow leopard was very encouraging for us. The department will extend the snow leopard project,” he added.

Two years ago, researchers discovered snow leopards inhabiting along the Sutlej River in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, suggesting an increase in the species’ population.

The elusive leopards were first captured in footage from remote areas of Lippa Asrang Wildlife Sanctuary, meaning there is plenty of prey for the wildcats.

The sanctuary is located at a height of around 4,000 meters while snow leopards are usually found between 9,800 and 17,000 feet in high and rugged terrain.

In Himachal Pradesh, snow leopard habitat ranges from Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary to Lahaul and Spiti to Pangi in Chamba district.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Gaurav Bisht heads the Himachal bureau of the Hindustan Times. He covers politics in the hill state and other issues concerning the masses.
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