The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) calls it the “first ever tangible evidence” of the existence of snow leopards in India’s hill state of Sikkim. And here are the first photos of the elusive, endangered cat captured at high altitude locations in North Sikkim:
WWF-India set up camera traps in the North Sikkim Plateau. The snow leopard, a flagship species of the high altitudes is on the ‘endangered’ list of IUCN. The snow leopards in Sikkim are contiguous with populations in Nepal, making it one of the key habitats for ensuring the animal’s long term survival in the Eastern Himalayas. Information on the distribution of the animal is scanty and its current range is poorly mapped mainly due to the high and inhospitable terrain.
WWF-India has been working since 2006 in Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to understand the snow leopard’s status and distribution in India. The exercise of setting up camera traps — the first attempt to fill the vast gaps in knowledge on snow leopards — began in 2015 under a larger programme funded by USAID in six Asian snow leopard range countries. The project aims at developing climate smart snow leopard conservation plans, according to WWF sources.
The camera trap study will now be implemented across the entire potential distribution range in Sikkim in multiple phases with help from local village youngsters. The study is expected to be completed by 2017 and hopes to provide the first-ever baseline data on the status of snow leopards, their wild prey base, and the threats that the snow leopards face in the state of Sikkim.
The information will be useful for formulating snow leopard conservation management plans.