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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

snow leopard population may be thriving despite dwindling habitat

The elusive, endangered snow leopard is apparently thriving in a park in Bhutan, as seen in camera trap images released on Tuesday by World Wildlife Fund

Despite retaliatory killings by herders and the gap between the tree line and the snow line narrowing, the elusive snow leopards are thriving in Bhutan’s newest park, the Wangchuck Centennial Park.
A study carried out in the country’s newest national park, Wangchuck Centennial Park, intended to find out the actual number of the snow leopard, caught on camera more than 10,000 pictures of the cats between last October and November.
The leader of the survey team, Dr. Rinjan Shrestha, of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said the findings are phenomenal as the pictures are the first snow leopard images recorded in the park.
“It suggests that the network of protected areas and corridors is helping to link local snow leopard populations, which will be invaluable to ensure long-term persistence of snow leopards in the region,” he said.
This finding is very critical as it suggests that the cats are thriving even as their habitat which is above the tree line but below the snow line is narrowing due to climate change.
As tree line moves up the snow leopards may be pushed further uphill which would affect the cat’s ability to move up due to limited oxygen at higher altitude. Their ability to move northward is limited by oxygen availability. It is predicted that as green house emissions continue to increase 30% of snow leopard habitat could be lost.
This is the first pictorial evidence that snow leopards in Wangchuck Centennial Park, a vital snow leopard corridor between Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in the West and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the East.
One of the captured images shows an adult female and a young snow leopard while another shows an adult feline nearly visible against a stony Himalayan background.
Most significantly, a video clip shows one adult leopard marking its territory, a way to communicate with other snow leopards about gender and breeding status.
The agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, said the snow leopard images from the park show the incredible richness of wildlife thriving in Wangchuck Centennial Park and prove why the park must be supported by donor agencies for conservation.
“For snow leopard conservation in Bhutan, Wangchuck Centennial Park acts as the critical linkage between Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Jigme Dorji National Park, thereby ensuring the functionality of the northern Bhutan conservation complex,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.
The survey was focused on snow leopard prey species, but in addition to snow leopard images, other images and footage of Tibetan wolf, wild dog, red fox, blue sheep, Himalayan serow, musk deer, Pika, pheasants and several birds of prey have been captured.
The Conservation Director of WWF Bhutan, Vijay Moktan, said
WWF Bhutan’s Conservation Director, Mr. Vijay Moktan, said this is the second national park that promises future for safe refuge of the globally endangered big cat.
“WWF will continue to work with the royal government to assess snow leopard population status and their distribution patterns across its habitat in Bhutan,” he said, adding that in the next 2-3 years Bhutan will have a well informed Snow Leopard Conservation Action Plan.
Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, snow leopard populations are suspected to have declined by at least 20% in the last 16 years due to habitat loss and the loss of prey.

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