| 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.