By Anand Bodh
SHIMLA: With the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) clearing Rs 5.15 crore project, the state wildlife department is set to launch a globally unique and field-based snow leopard research and conservation facility in Spiti Valley of tribal Lahaul-Spiti district, which is considered as one of India's most important snow leopard landscapes.
By setting up a research centre, installing cameras and equipping the animal with radio collars, not only the behaviour of snow leopard will be studied, but also, for the first time, efforts will be made to count them, as no exact data on their population in the state is available.
According to wildlife officials, snow leopard project of Rs 5.15 crore has been accepted by MoEF, commencing from 2010-11 for a period of four years to undertake India's first comprehensive and long-term radio-collaring project on the animal and its prey. The officials said the only other such facility in Asia is the one set up by Snow Leopard Trust, together with other partners and the Mongolian government.
"However, the Mongolian habitat differs considerably from the Himalayan ones. A primary difference is: while the former is mostly between 1,000m and 2,500m, the latter are mostly above 3,200m," they added.
Snow leopard is the state animal of Himachal Pradesh and under its conservation programme, the state forest department, along with Nature Conservation Foundation, is collaborating to generate sound scientific knowledge on snow leopards in the Spiti Valley.
Officials said Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Centre to be set up at Kibber in Spiti will give a further boost to its research and conservation in the country with the broad goal of instituting and encouraging focused short and long term studies pertaining to it. They said research and training centre for the animal conservation will have necessary infrastructure for carrying out state-of-the-art research programmes and will include work space, laboratory, communication and accommodation facilities. "It will also help conduct the first comprehensive snow leopard radio-collaring project in India," they added
Confirming the development, additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Lalit Mohan said permission has been received for the radio collaring of six snow leopards. Use of radio telemetry would help understand snow leopard ranging along human pressure gradient in Spiti.
He said besides studying the conflict of snow leopard with local population living around their habitation, their behaviour and population too would be examined. Cameras would be installed in their habitation that would also help in their counting, he added. "A study, whose authenticity was not established, in the past had claimed that 67 snow leopards are present in Himachal Pradesh. For the first time, scientific methods are being used to count them," he said.
Officials said important questions of snow leopard conservation relate to good estimates of its population, area needed for each animal (as per its age and sex), determinants of range quality in terms of prey availability, topography and disturbance, and their ability to move across human and natural barriers. There is also a pressing need to understand conflicts and the role of individual snow leopards in it.