For the first time in Jammu & Kashmir, the habitat of the snow leopard has been mapped. The move is expected to facilitate the conservation of the threatened feline. The survey has found that the species possesses a much wider distribution than was previously believed.
Carried out by the division of wildlife sciences of SKUAST (Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences Kashmir) in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India and the state’s Department of Wildlife Protection, the study was a process of the Ministry of Environment’s efforts to protect 10 highly threatened species which are on the verge of extinction, among which the snow leopard is numbered.
According to Dr. Khurshid Ahmad, the understanding of the distribution of the snow leopard and its prey had previously been poor in the region, even though the 77,800 sq km represents one of the largest stretches of contiguous habitat for the species.
The study found that areas such as Gurez, Tulail and Sindh have a high potential for snow leopard distribution, whereas Kajinag was placed in the moderate potential category. Ungulate prey at these sites consists of ibex, musk deer, marmots and markhor.
While the identification of snow leopard presence at new locations is an encouraging sign, numerous threats still abound. Extensive livestock grazing, along with the presence of accompanying guard dogs represents a major threat to the various prey species. The extensive building of bunkers and other forms of security installations along the Line of Control has also disrupted snow leopard habitat. On the other hand, the retaliatory killing of snow leopards by hunters in Sindh has come down owing to the increasing presence of security men.
The report highlighted the vital role which awareness among stakeholders such as migratory herders (Bakarwals) could play, along with the strengthening of enforcement measures. These will have to be implemented if the state’s ambitious project to save the species, initiated 8 years ago, is to be successful.
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