Snow Leopard

  • The snow leopard, also known as the ounce, is a felid in the genus Panthera native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia.
  • The Snow Leopard (also known as the Ghost of the mountains) acts as an indicator of the health of the mountain ecosystem in which they live, due to their position as the top predator in the food web.
  • India is a unique country to have a good presence of 5 big cats, including the Snow Leopard. The other 4 are Lion, Tiger, Common Leopard, and Clouded Leopard.
  • It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because the global population is estimated to number fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and is expected to decline by about 10% by 2040.
  • Hemis National Park is the biggest national park in India and also has a good presence of Snow Leopard.
  • Scientific Name: Panthera uncia
  • Top Predator: Snow leopards act as an indicator of the health of the mountain ecosystem in which they live, due to their position as the top predator in the food web.
  • Protection Status:
  • Habitat: They have a vast but fragmented distribution across the mountainous landscape of central Asia, which covers different parts of the Himalayas such as Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.
  • Threat: Largely threatened because of the loss of natural prey species, retaliatory killing due to conflict with humans, and illegal trade of its fur and bones.
  • The Snow leopard is a globally endangered species about which little is known.
    • Merely 7,500 are estimated to be surviving over an area of two million square kilometers in the Himalayas and Central Asian mountains, and all over they are facing tremendous human pressures.
    • India is perhaps home to 10 % of the global population in less than 5% of its global range, thus having a substantial proportion of its global population.
Snow Leopard distribution
Snow Leopard distribution

Conservation efforts of Snow Leopard by India

  • The Government of India has identified the snow leopard as a flagship species for the high-altitude Himalayas.
  • India is also party to the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Programme since 2013.
  • HimalSanrakshak: It is a community volunteer programme, to protect snow leopards, launched in October 2020.
  • In 2019, First National Protocol was also launched on Snow Leopard Population Assessment which has been very useful for monitoring populations.
  • SECURE Himalaya: Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the project on the conservation of high-altitude biodiversity and reducing the dependency of local communities on the natural ecosystem.
  • Project Snow Leopard (PSL): It was launched in 2009 to promote an inclusive and participatory approach to conserving snow leopards and their habitat.
  • India has identified three large landscapes, namely, Hemis-Spiti across Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh; Nanda Devi – Gangotri in Uttarakhand; and Khangchendzonga – Tawang across Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Snow Leopard is on the list of 22 critically endangered species for the recovery programme of the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change.
  • The Snow Leopard conservation breeding programme is undertaken at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling, West Bengal.

Global Conservation efforts

  • In 2013, the Bishkek Declaration set a goal of protecting at least 20 snow leopard landscapes with viable snow leopard populations by 2020.
    • It led to the formation of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). 
    • The GSLEP is a high-level inter-governmental alliance of all the 12 snow leopard range countries. It majorly focuses on the need for awareness and understanding of the value of Snow Leopard to the ecosystem
  • Every year, October 23 is observed as International Snow Leopard Day since 2014.
    • The day commemorates the anniversary of the Bishkek Declaration and celebrates this endangered cat and raises awareness for its conservation and protection.
  • Living Himalaya Network Initiative is established as one of WWF’s global initiatives to bring about transformational conservation impact across the three Eastern Himalayan countries of Bhutan, India (North-East), and Nepal.
    • Objectives of LHI include adapting to climate change, connecting to habitat, and saving iconic species.

Project Snow Leopard

  • The Project Snow Leopard is an Indian initiative launched by MoEF&CC for strengthening wildlife conservation in the Himalayan high altitudes.
  • It was launched in 2009 in 5 states of the country namely J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand to promote an inclusive and participatory approach to conserving snow leopards and their habitat.
  • Goal: To safeguard and conserve India’s unique natural heritage of high-altitude wildlife populations and their habitats by promoting conservation through participatory policies and actions.
    • It aims to promote a knowledge-based and adaptive conservation framework that fully involves the local communities, who share the snow leopard’s range, in conservation efforts.
  • Project Snow Leopard is designed for all biologically important habitats within the snow leopard’s range, irrespective of their ownership (e.g. Protected Areas, common land, etc.).
Project Snow Leopard
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