Chandan Kumar Mandal, The Kathmandu Post, 31 December 2018
The government is preparing to conduct a study on snow leopards by using satellite collars to track the animal’s spatial mobility and behaviour patterns.
The Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) has taken the initiative to carry out the research on snow leopards, which are found only in the mountains of central Asia and the Himalayas, including Nepal.
Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of the department, told the Post that the government will be conducting the research in the central and western ‘snow leopard complexes’ of the country after the winter season is over, as working in the mountainous region in the current weather conditions is difficult.
The habitat of the snow leopard in Nepal is divided into three complexes or landscapes: eastern, central and western.In the upcoming study, eight snow leopards from the Annapurna Conservation Area and the Manaslu Conservation Area (both in the central complex) and four snow leopards from Shey Phuksundo National Park (in the western complex) will be collared to track their movement and study their behaviour.
“A total of 12 snow leopards will be under our observation with the help of satellite collars. The study is being carried out to find more about the animal’s habitat, meaning we will be observing how far they travel in a day, their other behaviours, etc,” Khadka added.
According to WWF Nepal’s observation, based on sightings, reports and anecdotal records, the snow leopard’s presence has been suggested in eight mountain protected areas of the country: Annapurna Conservation Area, Shey Phuksundo National Park, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Manaslu Conservation Area, Makalu Barun National Park, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Sagarmatha National Park and Langtang National Park.
In 2003, a similar study was conducted in the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in the eastern complex, where four snow leopards were collared. An analysis of the report, carried out with the support from WWF Nepal, had uncovered some striking revelations about the movement of snow leopards.
“The study had shown that snow leopards have very large habitats. They have been crossing borders and reaching places as far as China and even Sikkim, in India,” Khadka shared the findings with the Post. The satellite-GPS collars are tied around the neck of the snow leopard. The device can track the animal for two years before the battery dries out.
Nepal is one of the 12 countries where snow leopards are found. The estimated population of the snow leopard is between 350-500 animals in Nepal. However, the country has not yet conducted a census survey of snow leopards. The department of national parks and wildlife conservation is planning to conduct the first-ever snow leopard population census.“The upcoming snow leopard study will also pave the way for a nationwide census of the animal soon,” added Khadka.