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Interactions between Snow Leopard Prey Species & Livestock

The highly endangered snow leopard (Uncia uncia) lives in the extremely dry and cold Trans-Himalayan region of northern India and feeds principally on wild sheep and goats.

The people of the area survive by maintaining large herds of livestock such as sheep, goats and yak, which are used for their milk, meat and skins. In some areas, these animals are the only source of income. Naturally, the herdsmen try to maintain the largest possible herds. This has led to overstocking in some areas, which speedily depletes the limited forage available to the wild prey of the snow leopard. A 2001 analysis contends that livestock, over a period of three millennia, have forced out several wild herbivores from the Lahaul and Spiti regions.

WPSI, together the International Snow Leopard Trust and Norway Aid Development Programme (NORAD) supported a collaborative study in November 2002 by the Wildlife Institute of India and the University of Tromsø, to estimate the population size of the snow leopard’s prey species.

One of the species studied was the highly endangered Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni). In Ladakh, the population size is less than 200. In summer, the argali live in inaccessible habitats at very high elevations, which makes observation difficult, so the study team conducted an intensive survey in winter, when the animals were concentrated at lower altitudes and snow cover made their tracks more visible.

It had been expected that that the chosen study area would have a population of 80 argali, and the study counted around 70. The study also collected information on the relationship between livestock density and population structure of snow leopard prey species.

Tsewang Namgail under the supervision from Dr. Joseph L. Fox from the University of Tromsø and Dr. Yash Veer Bhatnagar from the Wildlife Institute of India carried out the study.


 

 

 

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