India is home to 718 snow leopards, first national survey finds

The wild cats face increasing threats such as climate change and poaching

Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), Naltar Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.
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India is home to 718 snow leopards, the country's first survey of the wildcats has found.

Snow leopards are a threatened species found in cold, arid and rugged regions of the Himalayas, spread across the country’s northern and north-eastern states of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.

They are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

The wildcats live at altitudes of between 3,000m and 5,400m above sea level.

There are an estimated 4,500 snow leopards in the world, but their survival is threatened by poaching, climate change, infrastructure development and the depletion of high-altitude pastures.

The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India programme, a scientific survey conducted by the Environment Ministry for the first time, has raised hopes of a stable population of the animals in the country.

“Until recent years, the snow leopard range in India was undefined due to a lack of extensive nationwide assessments for this vulnerable species,” the ministry said.

The survey was conducted as part of the Population Assessment of the World's Snow Leopards (Paws), a global effort to determine the population of the wildcats.

The report was released by Bhupender Yadav, Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, on Tuesday.

During the survey, which took place between 2019 and 2023, a team of forest and wildlife staff, researchers and volunteers surveyed about 120,000 square kilometres of snow leopard habitats across India's Himalayas.

They found 477 snow leopards in Ladakh, 124 in Uttarakhand, 51 in Himachal Pradesh, 36 in Arunachal Pradesh, 21 in Sikkim and nine in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Before 2016, approximately one-third of the range, around 100,347 square kilometres, received minimal research attention, reduced to just five per cent in pockets like Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh,” the ministry said.

The SPAI said consistent monitoring is essential to ensuring snow leopards' long-term survival.

It suggested states work to provide population estimates every four years to identify challenges, address threats and formulate effective conservation strategies.

Updated: February 01, 2024, 12:50 PM