We still don’t have reliable methods to count the number of snow leopards. The Union environment ministry launched the Snow leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) programme last year for the purpose. To find the number of snow leopards, SPAI conducts intensive surveys in regions where snow leopards are generally found. Many tools like camera traps are placed to photo-capture snow leopards for population estimation.
Rishi Kumar Sharma, the lead of the Snow Leopards Programme at WWF International, said that SPAI can take note of the impact of climate change and can look for better ways for local communities to cope with wildlife by monitoring key landscapes in snow-leopard habitats. The environment ministry launched the program on October 23, 2019, to have a fair idea of the number of snow leopards in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
SPAI has completed field work for survey in Himachal Pradesh in March 2020 and reported the presence of 52 individuals.
Yashveer Bhatnagar, a senior scientist at NCF, said that it is very important to have numbers about the leopard. Many teams could only manage to develop techniques to estimate the snow leopard’s population only in the last decade. He says that counting the population of snow leopards is as crucial as counting tigers population.
Snow Leopards also drive tourists to Ladakh to watch them. The UT is trying to calculate the population with the help of camera traps. In past many years, camera traps have been used to count them but these cameras are bound the area they can cover. Presently, there are over 750 camera traps in Ladakh.
IUCN Red List has listed the snow leopard vulnerable and the animal comes under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Only 20% of snow leopards habitat lies in the protected areas. Communities have learned to share space with the white animal. Ladakh boasts of its snow leopards population and often uses the animal for attracting tourists. Other than India, these leopards are also found in neighbouring China, Mongolia, Pakistan and Tajikistan. These countries along with India account for 90% of the animals total population.