Tuesday, November 28, 2006

India all set for ‘project snow leopard’

S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, November 27
With a committee having been set up to formulate an action plan for the protection of the highly endangered species of snow leopard, the stage is set for the Centre shortly announcing a project on snow leopard on the lines of the tiger and elephant projects.

However, problems being faced by the Wildlife Department in managing the high altitude abode of the snow leopard shall have to be dealt with before launching the project.

Wildlife lovers have expressed concern over the fast dwindling number of the species in the country where estimates put the number of snow leopards at only about 500.

The five Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, that are the abode of the snow leopard, have expressed inability in conservation of the species with their meagre resources until the Centre comes out in a big way by announcing a project on snow leopard.

Alarmed over the depletion of the species, the Centre has constituted a nine-member committee under the chairmanship of the Additional Director-General of Forests (Wildlife) to draft the project on snow leopard.

An urgent need to formulate the project was emphasised in a recent national workshop that was held at Leh, which is considered as the home of the species. The workshop made 13 recommendations for the protection of the species.

It was stressed that the species could be conserved only through a focused strategy and action plan. It was essential that local communities were involved in the conservation efforts.

The project on snow leopard will promote research-based species recovery programme.

The population of snow leopard in the world went down to about 1000 in 1960s, but it is now estimated to have increased to more than 3500. Snow leopard is found in China, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Burma, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and India.

The Centre had been going slow towards conservation of the snow leopard as it was about 20 years ago that concern was expressed about the falling population of the species when an international symposium on snow leopard was held at Srinagar in 1986.

It was there that the recommendation of launching a project on snow leopard came. However, the silence of the Centre on the issue was broken only after the national workshop at Leh in July last that was organised by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the five Himalayan states, the Nature Conservation Foundation and the International Snow Leopard Trust.

The workshop provided an opportunity to the five Himalayan states to share their experiences regarding the main issues in high altitude wildlife conservation.

Wildlife experts have expressed concern over the gradual opening of the snow leopard areas to developmental pressures that are threatening its habitat. The Ladakh area has remained neglected from the viewpoint of wildlife conservation.

Piecemeal efforts for conservation of the snow leopard have been made from time to time. A scheme for its protection was formulated in 1988 when an area of 18,627 sq km in the five states was brought under its conservation.

Conservation of the snow leopard again came into focus during 2004 when a two-day workshop was held at Jammu and a concept paper was drafted to initiate the project snow leopard.

During deliberations in the workshop at Leh, representatives of all five states shared common concern that the high altitudes of the country were generally close to international borders, some of which are also conflict zones. The presence of military and paramilitary forces often harmed the interests of wildlife. The issue required to be addressed under a project on snow leopard, they suggested.


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