WILDLIFE: In lambs, a whiff of elusive predator – Prey clue to snow leopard habitat

WILDLIFE: In lambs, a whiff of elusive predator – Prey clue to snow leopard habitat – the way of the wild ?!!

The famous snow leopard in the Himalayan Zoological Park in Gangtok, Sikkim - just an overgrown cute pussy cat ?!! (Prabin Khaling)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Gangtok, Aug. 12: A two-year project in Sikkim has documented the habitat of snow leopards and their main prey, blue sheep and the Himalayan tahr.

The predator is known to be elusive and the project’s aim was to collect evidence of its presence by tracking down its prey along the 4,200-sqkm trans-Himalayan corridors of East, West and North districts of Sikkim.

The project has been taken up jointly by The Mountain Institute India and Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation in consultation with the Sikkim forest department.

All the three high-altitude animals are highly endangered species and fall under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Lhaser Valley in North Sikkim which was covered by the project - where the sheep look like mice, how nice ?!! (Prabin Khaling)

“This project is an effort to document the snow leopard’s presence in Sikkim using indirect evidences, the occurrence of their main prey. We also are developing an understanding of resource use by the local communities to factor in their needs and possible role in conservation,” said Ghanashyam Sharma, TMI-India programme manager.

The project, which started on April 1, 2008, concluded on March 31, 2010.

Over the past two years, NCF and TMI-India officials toured the areas of Sikkim above 5,000 metres, documenting snow leopard presence and keeping track of habitats of blue sheep and Himalayan tahr.

“The project will help identify critical snow leopard areas that can form the basis for landscape level conservation in the Sikkim Himalayas. In particular, the information on wildlife, local resource use, threats and local governance mechanism generated by this project will greatly aid in the landscape identification and preparation of the Management Plan mandated by the Project Snow Leopard,” said TMI-India in its report.

The state forest department has already identified snow leopard habitat spread over West, North and East Sikkim. This includes West and North Kanchenjungha National Park, Lhonak Valley, Tso Lhamo-Lashar-Yumesamdong complex and Tembawa-Jelep La based on extensive work conducted earlier in 2001-02 in addition to collaborative work with other institutions.

The forest department and other agencies have collected 33 snow leopard evidences that include scat as well as sightings made by herders and villagers in the high altitude areas since 1980. A bulk of these evidence were from the Dzongri-Lampokri area in West Sikkim and Tsho Lamu-Laseher in North district. The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, had set up camera traps in 2009 and captured the photographs of two snow leopards.

A himal rakshak or honorary mountain guardian, Phupu Tshering Bhutia, had collected a fresh pug mark in Yambong in West Sikkim in 2009, the report said.

“We did not use high-tech gadgets and instead relied on information provided by the herders and physical evidence like scat,” said Suraj Subba, the research assistant for the project.

State wildlife officer Usha Lachungpa said the Union ministry for environment and forests had launched Project Snow Leopard in January 2009 covering Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. “We are currently drafting the funding proposal for the project that will strengthen conservation efforts,” she said.

AND IN BRIEFS FROM THE TELEGRAPH

Guide class

Jaigaon: A two-day workshop to improve the skills of guides in the Gorumara National Park started at Murti, located on the fringes of the park, on Thursday. A total of 80 guides will participate in the workshop, foresters said.

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