Camera Traps Reveal Robust Refuge for Himalayan Wildlife


A snow leopard, eyes burning bright and distinctive dark rosettes on its fur, rubs its cheek gently on a rocky ridge. A night vision camera captures the enigmatic creature as it sprays its scent, marking its territory before disappearing into the dark.

This extraordinary scene is from a new cache of video and photos taken in the fall of 2011 through a camera trap study by the Royal Government of Bhutan and WWF in Wangchuck Centennial Park, the country’s largest protected area. The cameras filmed both predator and prey species, ranging from the Tibetan wolf to the musk deer, suggesting this protected area is a key refuge for Himalayan biodiversity.

“It’s thrilling to actually see snow leopards—perhaps the most elusive of all the mountain species in the Himalayas—engage in behavior we would otherwise only read about,” said WWF’s Dr. Rinjan Shrestha who led the research team in Wangchuck Centennial Park.


Studying snow leopards

Snow leopards are an endangered species and in the wild number between 4,500-7,500. Threats to the snow leopard are increasing, including poaching, loss of habitat and retaliatory killing by herders. Climate change impacts could result in the loss of as much as 30 percent of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas.

Wangchuck Centennial Park connects two protected areas to create a contiguous protected zone covering the entire northern frontier of Bhutan, which links to the Sacred Himalayan Landscape in Nepal and India, and India’s Western Arunachal Landscape.

WWF and the government are focusing on this protected area to advance the limited information available on snow leopards in Bhutan. The project aims to:

  • Identify snow leopard hotspots
  • Assess the abundance of prey species like blue sheep
  • Train park staff in field monitoring techniques

“The snow leopard images show the incredible richness of wildlife thriving here and prove why the park must be supported by donor agencies for conservation,” said Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan’s Minister of Agriculture and Forests.

WWF’s role

WWF has worked to preserve Bhutan’s rich biodiversity and natural heritage for decades and is the only international conservation organization with a permanent presence in the country.

“WWF has a special commitment to Wangchuck Centennial Park because we were invited to co-manage it with the government in 2009,” said Shubash Lohani of WWF’s Eastern Himalayas program. “It was the first time Bhutan entrusted a non governmental entity to co-manage a protected area together with the government.”

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The Sacred Himalayan Landscape: Unique, Threatened and Irreplaceable PDF, 259.40 KB