The first-ever photograph of a snow leopard in Uttarakhand taken by a camera trap in Chamoli district this month has buoyed the spirits of the State forest department and scientists of the Wildlife Institute of India. Given the fact that this photograph was taken about four months after the camera traps were installed, this development has also drawn attention to the threats being faced by this apex predator, considered a flagship species of the high Himalayas. The population of snow leopards in the five Himalayan States of India is estimated to be about 500.
The Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India and the Uttarakhand Forest Department have been working closely on the monitoring of wildlife in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve through research projects, field surveys, expeditions and regular departmental activities. According to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wild Life Warden, Shrikant Chandola, the WII proposed the use of camera traps for monitoring snow leopards and estimating their population in Nanda Devi.
WII senior scientist S Sathyakumar provided training to the researchers and field staff of Nanda Devi in August 2010 following which about 15 camera traps were installed in the region during December 2010. This effort was undertaken as part of the WII-UNESCO Project for World Heritage Sites currently being implemented in Nanda Devi and the Valley of Flowers national park under the supervision of WII Dean VB Mathur.
Since being installed in December 2010, the camera traps captured photographs of many wildlife species including the common leopard, blue sheep, red fox, musk deer, Himalayan tahr and the Himalayan monal pheasant among others till the first snow leopard was photographed in the Malari region of Nanda Devi. The Government of India had launched Project Snow Leopard on the lines of Project Tiger in 1989 but the project failed to become operational and was revived in 2006.
According to Chandola, the State forest department will continue collaborating with the WII in the camera trapping efforts in Nanda Devi reserve for estimating the population of snow leopards in this region and, subsequently, other parts of Uttarakhand. He added that by effectively executing measures approved under the Centrally-sponsored Project Snow Leopard scheme, the Uttarakhand State Government will be able to enhance protection and management activities in the high Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand to safeguard the critically endangered snow leopard and its associated species of wildlife.
News Source: The Pioneer