High in the Himalayas one of the world’s most beautiful and elusive cats – the snow leopards – are found. Poached for their fur and bones, only 3,500-7,000 individuals remain in the wild throughout Central and South Asia, appearing as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The Nepalese government's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, with support from National Trust for Nature Conservation and WWF Nepal, fitted a snow leopard with a satellite radio collar recently to monitor the snow leopard's movements and learn about its behaviour, movement patterns and habitats in Nepal. Omi Khangri, the 5-year-old snow leopard named after a mountain in the Olangchung Gola of Kanchenjunga region, is the second snow leopard to be fitted with a radio device.
— WWF-New Zealand (@WWFNewZealand) June 9, 2015
Conservationists believe that the information gathered from the collar will be crucial to conserving the 350-500 animals that roam Nepal's Himalayas.
A difficult task in difficult terrain
Even spotting a snow leopard is hard in the harsh, rugged and barren terrain, aided by their thick, pale fur with dark grey to black spots that help the cat to camouflage against the rocky slopes. It took about a year and a half for the experts to put a collar on the second animal.
Officials had to wait for more than 20 days and had to change trapping methods to search, capture and fit the satellite collar on Omi Khangri.
Here’s a video of the snow leopard collaring.
The region where the snow leopard was radio-tagged is scenic and beautiful, with the world’s third highest mountain Kanchengunga, but it is also infamous for the 2006 helicopter tragedy. A group of 24 including world-renowned conservationists lost their lives in the Ghunsa of Kanchenjunga in a chopper crash while returning after handing over the management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area to local communities – a moment to be remembered in the history of conservation.
The satellite-collaring of Omi Khangri is not new – tigers, rhinos and even gharials have been radio-collared in Nepal to research their movements.
According to the Saving Snow Leopards Report, snow leopards are in danger from the herders who kill them to protect their livestock:
Education programs run by agencies like the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy to discourage local herders from killing snow leopards are important. Improving herding techniques and coming up with more effective ways of guarding livestock can prevent killing in the first place.
Anil Adhikari, local conservation officer and a coordinator of Snow Leopard Conservancy projects in the Everest and Annapurna region of Nepal, writes in a blog post how other incentives are used to protect the animal, such as compensating herders when livestocks have been killed by snow leopard:
Most of the group members do not own livestock, but some do. If a snow leopard kills a baby yak the owner receives 700 rupees as compensation. 1,500 rupees is given for the loss of an adult.
With the study of Omi Khangri’s movements, conservationists expect to come up with better conservation efforts to conserve snow leopards that are poached for furs and bones and killed in retaliation by herders.