The Indian government has released the first nationwide estimate of the snow leopard population, putting the total at 718 individuals.
The data comes from the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) program conducted from 2019-2023 by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
Researchers systematically surveyed over 70% of potential snow leopard habitat across five Himalayan states – Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Methodology involved habitat analysis, trail surveys for leopard signs, and remote camera traps.
Occupied snow leopard habitat was estimated at over 93,000 sq km within a total potential habitat of more than 100,000 sq km. 241 individual big cats were photographed during 180,000 trap nights.
Population numbers were highest in Ladakh (477) followed by Uttarakhand (124). The assessment found snow leopards present but in smaller numbers in other states.
Previously only one-third of snow leopard range had been surveyed, leaving population sizes unclear. The SPAI exercise significantly expanded habitat coverage and baseline data.
Experts stressed the need for continued monitoring and assessments every 4 years. This will help address threats and formulate conservation strategies for the vulnerable species across India’s Himalayan region.
A dedicated snow leopard cell may be set up at WII to coordinate future population tracking efforts with state forest departments.