Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Help Save Elusive and Rare Snow Leopards of the Himalayas

Help Jumpstart "Project Snow Leopard" a Necessity in the mighty Himalayas

Introduction :

I strongly believe that after the "Royal Bengal Tiger", the most beautiful and majestic Big Cat is the shy and elusive "Himalayan Snow Leopard".

At present, there are supposed to be only 250-350 Regal Snow Leopards that live in the trans-himalayan mountainous region that covers Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh in India.

What is most distressing is that poaching has taken a tremendous toll on the population of shy snow leopards over the past 10-25 years in the snow capped Himalayas.

Some Facts on the Snow Leopard and its rugged habitat :

The Snow Leopard is a rare and solitary Big Cat that is elusive and hardly ever seen. It is persecuted and slaughtered a lot for its thick- luxurious -soft fur by organized poacher gangs as well as by illegal fur traders.

The Snow Leopard is a magnificent highly endangered mammal that is threatened by encroachers in its rugged himalayan habitat specially by livestock herders who chase away the prey of snow leopards namely "Bharal" or "Blue Sheep" as they want their livestock to graze where bharal normally graze.

As, a result many snow leopards are left to starve to death whenever their prey base is depleted namely "Bharal" who move to other mountain ranges in the lofty Himalayas.

There has always been an aura of mystery surrounding elusive snow leopards who are the rarest of all "Big Cats".

Snow Leopards inhabit remote and fairly inaccessible mountain cliffs and vistas in the Himalayas specially in and around Spiti in the trans-himalayan mountainous region in Himachal Pradesh and in and around Kibber National Park and Hemis National Park in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh respectively.

Is Bharal the primary prey of Snow Leopards some kind of deer ??

No, the Bharal is "Wild Blue Sheep" that makes up more than 80% of the snow leopard's diet.

The Bharal is "Blue Sheep" which is native to the Himalayas and is found exclusively in the Himalayas. It is stocky and is adept at climbing across remote vistas, canyons, mountains, and cliffs in the Himalayas.

The Bharal is well adapted to climbing and jumping across all areas in the rugged Himalayas. Herds of Bharal can be seen all across the Himalayas in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh grazing on craggy slopes and cliffs.

Flagship Species of the Himalayas :

One of the best places in the "High Altitude Himalayas" to see the extremely endangered Snow Leopard is Hemis National Park in Ladakh.

This Big Cat Predator is the dominant "Flagship Species" in the Himalayas and in Hemis National Park -- the Snow Leopard is blessed with prey such as Bharal -- Wild Blue Sheep, Ibex, Urial of Ladakh, and Argali found only in this part of the Himalayas.

It is important to remember in this connection, that patience is a virtue if one wishes to see the Magnificent Snow Leopard in all its glory up close and personal at Hemis National Park.

This is only because the snow leopard is very shy and very elusive and avoids contact with Humans at all times even when it is in search of a meal. It has been observed that "Wildlife Biologists" of international repute have had to wait for a number of years to see the wonderful snow leopard in its rugged mountain habitat.

Breeding Behaviour and other Behaviour of Snow Leopards :

Some mention must be made of the "Breeding Behaviour" of elusive, magnificent, shy, and solitary snow leopards of the Himalayas.

Elusive Snow Leopards of the Himalayas are quite solitary in nature but they meet one another of the opposite sex during the breeding season which extends from January to March.

It is very important to keep in mind that snow leopards unlike other Big Cat Predators namely Royal Bengal Tigers  and Spotted Leopards do not growl or roar at all.

Rather, they possess  a high pitched yowl which can be heard over mountain gorges, vistas, canyons, and cliffs specially when the nights are frigid and sounds travel faster across mountain valleys and deep gorges.

It is important to know that snow leopards in most part of the Himalayas are extremely active early in the morning, at daybreak, or late in the afternoon or even in the evening.

It has been observed that these shy Big Cat Predators of the Himalayas and Trans -- Himalayan Mountain Regions even travel in the middle of the day from one mountain cliff or gorge to another.

Snow Leopards are moving constantly in their habitat, looking for a cave where they can rest and only in the event of prey that they have killed and have to consume; they remain in a particular place for a long time.

What can be done to save Snow Leopards and their Habitat :

To save Snow Leopards and their rugged mountainous habitat, all effort must be concentrated on saving the prey of snow leopards namely bharal or wild blue sheep as they are otherwise known.

To save Bharal, all livestock herding must be banned with immediate effect in the immediate vicinity where herds of bharal roam freely. This needs to be done as soon as possible as bharal are often driven away by graziers and livestock herders who want their domesticated livestock like goats, sheep, Tibetan Yak, and others to feed on grass in the craggy mountainous areas where herds of bharal feed.

Once herds of bharal are chased out from a certain area where they graze, the possibility of snow leopards and their gorgeous cubs starving to death is extremely high as snow leopards like all "Big Cat Predators" depend exclusively on their prey in their immediate vicinity for their daily or weekly sustenance.

Unlike Wild Elephant Herds and One -Horned Rhinos who live on grass, vegetables, fruit, and leaves of trees in various parts of India -- Snow Leopards need prey to live on a day to day basis as they are essentially "carnivorous".

Unprotected areas where herds of bharal feed and also where herds of Tibetan Argali and Urial feed should be converted into protected areas or national parks if we are really keen on seeing regal snow leopards in their wonderful mountain habitat over the next 10-25 years.

Since, a large number of snow leopards are getting increasingly fragmented within protected areas; buffer zones must be created as soon as possible to allow snow leopards to move about freely between separate protected areas.

This is necessary as many protected areas where snow leopards exist are no longer contiguous with other protected areas where other groups of snow leopards live.

Conclusion :

Without hesitation, it must be said that in the absence of snow leopards, the high mountains of India would be like the savannah grasslands of Africa without cheetahs; reduced in life and zest.

But for now, the snow leopard is a living symbol of the very concept of  "Life" and most importantly a sensitive indicator of a healthy "Himalayan Ecosystem".

References and Credits :

1. Wildlife at Hemis by Tsewang Namgail
     Hornbill Magazine, April - June 2006
     Pages 4-10

2.  Tracking the Snow Leopard
      Page 793, National Geographic Magazine
      Volume 169, N0- 6
       June 1986


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