Snow leopard numbers jump in Bhutan

Snow leopard walking toward camera

HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS :: BHUTAN

Finding a snow leopard is an unusually difficult feat. With dappled gray-white fur, the extremely furtive big cats are well-camouflaged in their rocky and harsh Himalayan habitat. But that didn’t stop Bhutan’s 2022–23 Second National Snow Leopard Survey from tallying an estimated 134 individuals, offering hope for the species’ future.

The extensive survey, conducted by the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Department of Forests and Park Services—with support from Bhutan for Life, WWF, and other partners—involved 310 camera trap stations across 2.2 million acres of the country’s northern alpine landscape. A review of more than 10,000 images revealed a 39.5% population increase since 2016, as well as leopard activity in several new locations—encouraging results that can be attributed to Bhutan’s success in addressing poaching and conserving habitats.

Because a growing snow leopard population could mean more conflicts with herding communities, the findings underscore the need to help local people coexist with the predators. Methods include improving protections for livestock, safeguarding prey species, and promoting community-based wildlife tourism initiatives.

The findings also suggest that Bhutan, with its vast expanse of suitable habitat, can serve as a safe haven where snow leopard populations can continue to grow and disperse into nearby India and China.

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