Snow leopard images delight wildlife rangers in Kashmir

Conservationists are relieved to see a rare snow leopard in what they say is the first member of the endangered species caught on camera in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The adult animal was identified from images taken last month using infrared camera traps in a remote area between 3,500 and 3,800 meters above sea level. The trap was set up earlier this year in an attempt by the Jammu and Kashmir government to limit the number of cats in the territory.

“In the coming days, more such findings are expected from ongoing surveys of these landscapes,” said Muneeb Sajjad Khanyari, high-altitude program director at The Nature Conservancy of India, who explained that the mysterious animals could act as a “flagship” for the promotion. conservation and development programmes.

“The camera hunt exercise also revealed other important and rare species such as Asian caribou, brown bear and Kashmir musk deer, as well as incredible information regarding other biodiversity components of these habitats, interactions and threats. [which] It will be documented in the form of a final report.”

Snow leopards, which weigh up to 75 kilograms, prefer solitude in the snowy Himalayan highlands, which makes sightings of them very uncommon. With their thick, silky, gray coats flanked with black spots, they blend in with the granite’s habitat, contributing to their mystical atmosphere.

A snow leopard is seen in the Thaguas district of Paltal in Indian-administered Kashmir.  (Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)

A snow leopard is seen in the Thaguas district of Paltal in Indian-administered Kashmir. (Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)

Estimates of its total population range from 4,080 to 6,590 spread across 12 countries and about 100,000 square kilometres. The entire Indian Himalayas are believed to only support around 500 snow leopards.

“We know very little about the number of snow leopards in Kashmir,” Khanyari said. “From our initial understanding, it is likely that there will only be a handful of individuals here.”

There are periodic sightings of snow leopards in the area, but so far there has been no photographic evidence of their presence, said Intisar Sohail, a wildlife activist in the southern Shopian district of the Kashmir Valley.

“The confirmation itself is an important development,” he told VOA. “So far there have been records, but this time we have photographic evidence. In the long term it will help conservation and habitat protection efforts.”

Suhail added that conservation efforts “will focus around this species because it is one of the main species.”

There is an urgent need to better assess snow leopard occupancy and population status in order to ensure their survival, said Khurshid Ahmed, Head of Department of Wildlife Sciences at Sher Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology.

Among the threats facing these creatures are poaching, habitat fragmentation, increased human interference in their habitat and the killing of herders worried about leopard attacks on their livestock.

Global climate change is also stressing animals, which thrive in the icy highlands of the Himalayas and feed on other animals such as caribou, which in turn feed on plants that require the same cold climate.

Climate change is having an impact globally as well [this holds] Sohail said, “This applies to Kashmir and needs to be mitigated. The snow leopard is an indicator of climate change. Its permanent habitat is in the icy regions and it is a very cold area.”

The good news, he said, is that data emerging from the current census of snow leopards taking place across India will make it possible to better understand how climate change is affecting their populations.

Khanyari, of the National Conservation Foundation, made a similar point based on his personal experience closely observing a blue sheep, or bahral, ​​and later discovering its partially eaten carcass in a cave.

“It really shows you two things – that it’s hard to survive in nature and that life and death are part of nature,” he said. “It also shows us how things are interconnected: without blue sheep, snow leopards cannot exist and without grass, blue sheep cannot exist. We are all connected.”

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