NEW DELHI: In a landmark publication, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) conducted its first-ever scientific survey of the snow leopard population in India, revealing a staggering 718 population. Union Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, presented the comprehensive report during the National Board for Wildlife meeting held in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) program spearheaded by WII was a milestone in understanding and conserving elusive species The study received collaborative support from all Snow Leopard Range States and two conservation partners Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore and WWF-India Covering over 70% potential snow leopard in the country, the study covered about 120,000 square kilometers of significant snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region.
This extensive range included Union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, as well as states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. Implemented from 2019 to 2023, a camera was used to estimate snow leopard populations in carefully identified segmented areas in a two-track system Efforts surveyed 13,450 km of trails though documented snow leopard tracks, using 1,971 cameras on a staggering 180,000 nights.
The survey revealed that 93,392 square kilometers of snow thinkers account for an estimated 100,841 square kilometres. Remarkably, the cameras captured 241 unique snow leopards. The data analysis also gave us an insight into the estimated population of various states, with Ladakh leading the way at 477, followed by Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim ( 21), followed by Jammu and Kashmir (9).
The report emphasized the historical lack of extensive nationwide assessments for this vulnerable species, citing that until recent years, the snow leopard range in India was undefined. The study filled crucial gaps in knowledge, with recent status surveys covering 80% of the range (approximately 79,745 square kilometers), compared to 56% in 2016.
Highlighting the need for sustained efforts, the report suggested setting up a dedicated snow leopard sanctuary under the Indian Wildlife Institute under the ministry. The proposed cells will focus on long-term population monitoring, supported by well-designed experimental protocols and routine field surveys. States and Central Territories were urged to consider adopting the method of periodic population estimates every four years in the snow leopard population to identify challenges, mitigate risks and develop effective conservation strategies.
This major achievement not only sheds light on the rare snow leopard population but also highlights the importance of collaborative scientific efforts in the conservation of India’s biodiversity.