Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are no more endangered but vulnerable, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A senior forest officer with Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (JKSNR) in Haa, Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal, shared this status during the fourth annual research symposium that Bhutan Ecological Society conducted in Thimphu yesterday.

He said they learnt that snow leopard is now assessed as vulnerable in September, as the global population is estimated to number more than 2,500 but fewer than 10,000 mature individuals.

There are 96 snow leopards in the country according to the national snow leopard survey carried out by the Department of Forests and Park Services  from 2014 to 2016.

Snow leopards are listed as totally protected wild animals under Schedule I of Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.

Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal, while presenting a paper on the status of snow leopards in JKSNR, said that currently there are 10 snow leopards recorded at the reserve. The paper is a collaborative work by Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal, Bhakta Bahadhur Ghallay, Tshewang Namgay and Sonam Tobgay.

He said that the status of the snow leopard is brought to vulnerable due to the conservation efforts.

JKSNR has an area of 609.5 Sq Km. It is part of the Kanchenjunga Himalayan trans-boundary landscape (Snow Leopard Landscape), and a part of the Himalaya biodiversity hotspots.

The study focused on the north and central part of the reserve and was confined to areas between 3,500 – 5,200 metre above sea level. “We are not able to reach areas above 5,000 metres because of security reasons and inaccessible terrain,” Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal said.

He said they identified the snow leopards through different pelage pattern. The cameras took 215 images, of which 163 were used for individual identification of the snow leopards.

Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal said that in JKSNR, snow leopards do not face major threats such as competition for food and increasing cattle population. There are small threats of feral domestic dogs hunting blue sheep calves, as the key prey species for snow leopards in JKSNR is blue sheep.

He said that with a good population of blue sheep in various places inside the survey area, the future of snow leopards in JKSNR is secure. The snow leopard is found in 12 Asian countries.

Karma Cheki