Mon Mar 2, 2009 4:41pm IST
SRINAGAR (Reuters Life!) - Authorities in Kashmir have launched a special project to save endangered snow leopards, and plan to spend nearly half a million dollars to train people and buy equipment to curb poaching and habitat loss.
"Project Snow Leopard" was launched at the weekend to protect the elusive cats that roam the icy wilderness of the Himalayan region. About 60 percent of India's estimated 600 snow leopards are in Kashmir at an altitude of about 3000 metres (9,800 feet).
Snow leopards, whose pelts command a high price on the international black market, are a protected species. But wildlife groups say their numbers are dwindling due to habitat loss and poaching by herdsmen.
The solitary cats are native to the remote mountain ranges of central and southern Asia, where their population is estimated to be around 7,000.
India has the third-largest population of snow leopards after China and Mongolia.
"With the launching of the project, the works to be taken up include habitat improvement through pasture development and construction of a nature interpretation centre," a government statement said.
"The conservation project also includes the promotion of alternative livelihoods for the forest dependent local people, and public awareness activities," it said.
Weighing up to 75 kg (165 lb), the snow leopard has a thick, soft grey coat with ringed black spots to help it camouflage itself among rocks.
Wildlife officials said about half a million dollars would be spent on buying patrol vehicles, powerful cameras and binoculars among other things. Forest officials and staff would also receive special training.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org