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Evidences of snow leopard in Uttarakhand (9th February, 2016) : The Uttarakhand forest department found evidence of the presence of snow leopards in six valleys during the survey conducted to study the population of the endangered cat in the upper reaches, an official said on Monday (8th Febraury, 2016). The 15-day survey in June 2015 – the first in the state to map the population of the endangered high – altitude species – was conducted in the hill state and the evidences of its presence were found in six, said Uttarakhand chief wildlife warden.

The snow leopard, a species found at an altitude of 3,000 m, is a Schedule I animal under Wildlife Protection Act of India and is listed as “endangered” by International Union for Conservation of Nature. Uttakhand is among the five states in the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh where snow leopards have been sighted. Presence of snow leopard has been recorded on the camera traps in Gangotri and Nanda Devi earlier. However, this is the first time that their evidence in 6 valleys out of 16 has been recorded.

Thirty nine pieces of evidence, including dropping and scats were found. The dropping will be sent for DNA analysis. DNA analysis will help subtract duplication and identify the number snow leopards. With all these findings, it is expected that the state will now be covered under the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection programme that includes 12 range countries, where the elusive the big cats are found.

Through this project, the forest department shall be able to do better habitat management of the species. In 2013, 12 snow leopard large countries including India, Russia, Afghanistan, China, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed the ambitious Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Conservationists say the number of snow leopards have decreased due to the receding snowline and poaching in the hill state. The lack of population map of snow leopards in Uttarakhand had created a hurdle for the state’s inclusion in the project Snow Leopard launched by the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change in 2009. Under the project, state had to identify the snow leopard habitats and draft management plans. The Centre, under the project, provides funds for the research, including the use of camera traps and satellite collaring to collect more data on the elusive big cat. Snow leopard prefer steep rugged habitat with broken terrains, rocky outcrops. These landscape give the elusive cats a clear view and good cover to hunt the prey.    

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