India Animals 
First Ever Scientific Report Confirms 718 Snow Leopards in India

The Tribune | 31/01/2024

Courtesy: The Tribune

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There are 718 snow leopards in India as per the first ever scientific count—the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Programme—in the country. Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav released the report on the Status of Snow Leopards in India at the National Board for Wildlife meeting on Tuesday. “The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Programme is the first-ever scientific exercise that reports Snow leopard population of 718 individuals in India,” according to an official statement.

During the SPAI exercise, 13,450 km of trails were surveyed for recording snow leopard signs and camera traps deployed at 1,971 locations for 180,000 trap nights.

Snow leopard occupancy was recorded at 93,392 km2, with an estimated presence of 100,841 km2. A total of 241 unique Snow leopards were photographed.

Based on data analysis, the estimated population in different states are Ladakh (477), Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9).

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is the National Coordinator for the exercise carried out with the support of all snow leopard range states and two conservation partners—the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru and WWF-India. “The SPAI systematically covered over 70 per cent of the potential snow leopard range in the country, involving forest and wildlife staff, researchers, volunteers, and contributions from knowledge partners.

“Covering approximately 120,000km2 of crucial Snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region, including UTs of Ladakh and J & K, and states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, the SPAI exercise was conducted from 2019 to 2023 using a meticulous two-step framework,” it added.

The first step involved evaluating Snow leopard spatial distribution, incorporating habitat covariates into the analysis, aligning with the guidelines of the national population assessment of snow leopards in India by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2019, say officials. 

This systematic approach included assessing the spatial distribution through an occupancy-based sampling approach in the potential distribution range. In the second step, Snow leopard abundance was estimated using camera traps in each identified stratified region, they added.

“Until recent years, the snow leopard range in India was undefined due to a lack of extensive nationwide assessments for this vulnerable species.

“Before 2016, approximately one-third of the range (around ca. 100,347 km2) received minimal research attention, reduced to just 5% in pockets like Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

“Recent status surveys have significantly increased understanding, providing preliminary information for 80% of the range (about 79,745 km2), compared to 56% in 2016. To gather robust information on Snow leopard numbers, the SPAI exercise surveyed habitats using a substantial network of camera traps,” as per the statement.

The report also mentions the need for establishing a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at WII under the MoEFCC is proposed, with a primary focus on long-term population monitoring, supported by well-structured study designs and consistent field surveys.

Consistent monitoring is essential to ensuring Snow leopards' long-term survival. For the same, states and UTs can consider adopting a periodic population estimation approach (every 4th year) in the Snow leopard range.

These regular assessments will offer valuable insights for identifying challenges, addressing threats, and formulating effective conservation strategies.

This article was first published in The Tribune, India.

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