Snow leopards are usually solitary and nocturnal cats found above the tree line
For the first time in camera trapping survey, three adult snow leopards have been captured in a single frame, walking in a row, at the heart of the Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP).
These three elusive cats were first caught on camera in a group on March 10 and later on March 17 this year.
Speaking to Business Bhutan, the project co-manager of WCP, Netra Sharma said March and April are regarded to be the mating season of snow leopards. “The cats being together could be due to courtship where one female is being followed for mating by two males,” said Netra Sherma.
Snow leopards are usually solitary and nocturnal cats found above the tree line.
He said the cats are elusive and solitary animals and that the affects of climate change cannot be ruled out for capturing the three together.
The camera traps were set up at an elevation of 3,975 meters as a part of a prey based survey of snow leopards. The survey started since the last week of October 2011. From a total of 28 camera stations set up, 14 stations managed to capture exclusive pictures of the snow leopards.
A recent study carried out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, snow leopards’ habitat in the Himalayas could be lost substantially.
The study estimates Bhutan’s original snow leopards’ habitat to be around 4,900 square kilometers. Taking into account the potential changes in the alpine and forest zones under three climate scenarios, the study says Bhutan could lose up to 55% of its snow leopards’ habitat.
Under the low emissions scenario, Bhutan would be left with 4,600 square kilometers and 3,200 square kilometers under medium emissions scenario, while under high emissions scenario the habitat would decrease to 2,200 square kilometers.
“While the recent camera trap pictures of snow leopards from WCP is a good sign that there is a safe habitat available for these animals, the kind of threat that climate change poses to the survival of these animals cannot be underestimated,” said Netra Sherma.
He said Bhutan should continue to provide the kind of habitat needed for survival of snow leopard while its population dwindles elsewhere.
“We in Bhutan are making our own efforts to save this charismatic animal. It is a matter of pride for all Bhutanese that we have this animal in Bhutan,” he added.
The first pictorial evidence of snow leopard thriving at the WCP was revealed after a study intended to find out the actual number of the cats was conducted at the park.
More than 1,000 pictures of the cats were captured which show that WCP is a vital snow leopard corridor between Jigme Doji National Park (JDNP) in the west and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary(BWS) 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. A video clip also shows an adult leopard marking its territory, a way to communicate with other snow leopards about gender and breeding status.
“The recent pictures of snow leopards prove that the WCP provides a safe haven for these animals,” he said.
He said capturing the pictures of the cats fulfills one of the goals of the park – to conserve, protect and maintain the viability of specific ecosystem and species in a way that will allow natural processes of succession with minimal human influence.