An estimated 300 – 400 snow leopards found in Nepal

The preliminary population estimate of snow leopards in the Nepal Himalayas conducted by WWF in collaboration with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) has shown the presence of about 300-400 animals. The figures were recently released by the Government of Nepal. The study was undertaken with funding from WWF-US, WWF-UK and WWF-Finland.

"The population estimate was based on the model describing the relationship between sign (scrape) encounter rates, the snow leopard numbers assessed through genetic analysis and the habitat suitability assessment in the Nepal Himalayas," says Dr. Rinjan Shrestha, Conservation Biologist with WWF Nepal.

"This model is useful for providing relatively good estimates of populations at landscape scales, when the conservation actions are urgently needed and when data gathering poses a challenge to developing and implementing conservation strategies."

Snow leopards are widely, but patchily and sparsely distributed throughout the alpine ecosystems of the Himalayan mountain range. Their preferred habitat is considered to be rugged, non-forested landforms, dominated by cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. Because this terrain is quite inaccessible to people, and because snow leopards are elusive by nature, very little information is available on their distribution and population status.

"The declining numbers of snow leopard due to the widespread poaching for bones and pelts, and retaliatory killing call for urgent and strategic conservation action," said Mr. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative, WWF Nepal.

"Simple, inexpensive, but effective and standardized methods are needed to acquire reasonable estimates of snow leopard abundance and distribution in the Nepal Himalayas that can become the basis for a conservation strategy."

"In Kangchenjunga Complex, the presence of 18 snow leopards shows the success of the Livestock Insurance Scheme (LIS) in involving the local communities in saving the snow leopards from retaliatory killings," said Dr. Ghana Shyam Gurung, Conservation Program Director, WWF Nepal.

The LIS is being replicated in other snow leopard landscapes with a vision to save the snow leopard throughout its landscape ranging from Dolpo in the west to Kangchenjunga in the east.

In Nepal, the endangered snow leopards are listed in Schedule 1 of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, thereby making it a priority species for conservation.

"The results from the present study is exciting and positive but we can not stay unworried saying this," said Dr. Uday Raj Sharma, Secretary, Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal.

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The Eastern Himalayas
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