elusive himalayan big cat population to be studied

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This is the first time a camera trap based survey is being carried out to study the population of snow leopard at the Wangchuck Centennial Park

Till today no formal study has been done to study the exact number of Snow Leopard in Bhutan. Now the Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP) is carrying out the first ever snow leopard prey base survey in the central range of the park.

This in turn will help in studying the likely population of the cats in the country.

The Project Co-Manager, Netra Binod Sharma, WCP, said a 2008 rapid mammal survey in WCP revealed the presence of snow leopard while it also revealed that the snow leopard prey habitat was decreasing.

He said the degradation was due to over grazing and retaliatory killing, and these two are the major threats to the long term survival of snow leopards in the park.

“The present study is aimed at filling the gap in the information on the habitat of snow leopard, population, its prey base and threats to the survival of snow leopard besides coming up with necessary conservation interventions,” Netra Binod Sharma said.

He said once the survey is completed in all the ranges it will establish the total snow leopard population in Wangchuck Centennial Park.

“The study will help WCP come up with participatory conservation interventions to maintain a healthy population of snow leopard in WCP,” he added.

This study will further help maintain a biological connectivity for movement of snow leopards along the Jigme Dorji National Park, Wangchuck Centennial Park and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary.

The study is being carried out based on the information provided by villagers on the sightings and the signs like fecal matter, scrapes, and scent spray. The field staffs and a conservation scientist from the World Wildlife Fund (US) surveyed the central range of the park by using camera traps to capture the pictures of snow leopard and its prey base.

A total of 11 camera traps were set in potential sites based on information provided by villagers on the sightings and presence signs.

Netra Binod Sharma said the data from the survey will be analyzed for deducing the population size of the snow leopard’s prey base.

“Based on the population of prey base, the population of snow leopards that could be supported will be worked out,” Netra said.

WCP has completed the first stage of the study and the presence of various other species like the red fox, Tibetan wolf, Himalayan Serow, blue sheep, Himalayan marmot, and Himalayan musk deer have also been confirmed in the region.

All these animals were sighted in an altitude range of 3912 to 4994 meters above the sea level.

The final survey will be carried out in March-April this year. Likewise, similar survey will also be carried out by the field staff in other ranges to get the baseline information on snow leopard population.

There is no exact number of the cats in Bhutan as of now; however, few records show that there are 100 to 200 cats in Bhutan, while its global population is expected to be around 3,500 to 7,000.