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Satellite collar to explain snow leopard behavior (March)

 

Pioneer, Delhi, Monday 24th March 2014

Six snow leopards will soon be fitted with satellite-linked collars in the tribal Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. This will enable a deeper understanding of the behaviour of the endangered cat and their movement in the Himalayan habitat that are affected by climate change and human settlements.

Very little is known about the elusive big cats, which has been categorised as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to sources in the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Rs 25 lakh project will provide a better understanding of their habitat and activities, thereby help in formulating their long term conservation strategies.

The results of the study will also pave way for future plans to set up a research centre in the State in Spiti Valley, along the Tibetan border, which is considered an important habitat for the snow leopards. According to the estimates there are less than 30 snow leopards left in the State.

Apart from Himachal, the big cat is also found in higher reaches of the snow-capped Himalayas, above the tree line, in the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. While its population has been steadily decreasing over the last two decades, as per a study by WWF, India is home to at least 700 snow leopards out of an estimated 7,000 population in the world.

“But this wild cat is difficult to document, owing to its high elevation habitat and elusive nature. The actual status of the snow leopard and the range occupied by it are poorly mapped. Therefore the GPS tagging of the snow leopard will be highly beneficial”, said Vivek Mohan, senior forest official from Himachal.

According to experts, the conservation of snow leopards is facing numerous challenges largely due to its rapidly depleting habitat and loss of prey base. This has led the big cat to descend from higher altitudes, venturing closer to human habitation and prey on livestock grasing in the region. This has increased incidents of man animal conflicts in the hill States. Though it does not pose a physical threat to humans, it is victim of revenge killing having preyed on livestock. The animal is also poached for its skin. Further its bones and body parts are much in demand in wildlife trade for their use in traditional Chinese medicine.