Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) and its India partner, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), have been monitoring snow leopard populations in parts of northern India for many years. However, over the last three years, the foundation completed the first reliable estimate of snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh state. This is part of the “Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India” project. This is India’s contribution to SLT’s Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards (PAWS) initiative that is led by the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program, an inter-governmental alliance of all 12 snow leopard range countries that SLT supports. The aim of the PAWS project is to arrive at a reliable global estimate of snow leopards. All 12 snow leopard range countries are participating in the initiative.
Over the three-year survey, 44 individual snow leopards were captured in an extensive camera trapping exercise, leading to an estimate of 51 snow leopards with a density between 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 square kilometers. This places the official population estimate in the state at 51 individuals (with statistical confidence limits ranging from 34 to 73 individuals). This population estimate is valuable as a standalone achievement, but will also serve as a marker for assessing the effectiveness of future conservation efforts.
The estimate was achieved through rigorous data collection by NCF in partnership with the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department. Over the project timeline, 80 camera traps were placed in each of 10 sites across Himachal Pradesh’s snow leopard habitats: Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang and Spiti. These encompassed areas where, based on prior information, our scientists expected a high density of snow leopards or a low density of snow leopards, as well as areas where they did not have any prior information to make these judgments. Individual snow leopards were detected in all 10 sites, including in the low density areas where just one or two cats were recorded on the cameras. Alongside camera trapping, the field teams also conducted population assessments of wild ungulate prey of snow leopards in all 10 sites.
Methodology from the successful three-year study will be useful to survey additional states in India where snow leopards are present, and once published in a peer reviewed international journal will be shared with other snow leopard countries to support the PAWS initiative.
Thank you to the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Disney Conservation Fund & Dynafit for making this survey possible.