The Snow Leopard is a shy and elusive big cat. Highly acclimatized to the extreme cold weather, they can leap across the harsh windy peaks without a sound. Both these traits have given it the name ‘ghosts of the mountains’.
Peter Matthiessen wrote in his book The Snow Leopard, “that the snow leopard is, that it is here, that its frosty eyes watch us from the mountains – that is enough.”
Because they are so shy and their habitat so inaccessible, not much is known about this species. As vulnerable as they are, only 5 percent of their habitat has been studied, leaving a lot of territory undiscovered and not understood. Hence, understanding and studying these magnificent creatures is key to conserving them.
In August 2019, WWF India conducted a biodiversity survey at Shakti village located in Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh to understand the biodiversity across a wide altitudinal range of 1500 to 4500m. Shakti is located in close proximity to one of the community conserved areas, Pangchen Lumpo Muchat Community Conserved Area (PLUMCCA). These traditionally managed and protected forests continue to serve as a potential habitat for the ghost cat, which is the keystone species of such ecosystems. Such biodiversity surveys not only help us in understanding the biodiversity and traditional practices but in also understanding the traditional governance systems for natural resources management strategies and sustainability.
A team of local youth along with a WWF India representative carried out a survey by deploying camera traps and collected secondary data on snow leopards from local communities. Though these efforts are tedious, they are vital in mapping potential snow leopard habitats. Since the snowy mountains and landscapes are so closely connected, the snow leopards’ habitats span across topographies. Such surveys help us get a better sense of these mysterious big cats. The survey also indicated the presence of multiple rare and endangered species in CCAs, highlighting the need to focus on conservation interventions in these areas.