“The findings are phenomenal as these are the first snow leopard images recorded in Wangchuck Centennial Park,” said lead surveyor Dr. Rinjan Shrestha, from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). “It suggests that the network of protected areas and corridors is helping to link local snow leopard populations, which will be invaluable to ensure long-term persistence of snow leopards in the region,” continued Dr Shrestha.
The first ever Snow Leopard Prey survey, which was actually completed in 2012, had a goal to identify the number of snow leopards in Wangchuck and where they exist, in order to prioritize the best areas for conservation. It was completed by field biologists from the Government of Bhutan and WWF with over 10,000 captured images taken, including the first of snow leopards in the area.
Snow leopards are elusive and endangered, and there are reported to be around only 4,500-7,500 in the wild. In fact, the Bhutan News Network report that only 100-200 leopards are expected to be surviving in a potential range of 10,000 sq km in Bhutan. ‘Studies show that these wild cats are disappearing rapidly from the planet,’ highlighted the Bhutan News Network.
‘It’s unknown how many snow leopards exist in Wangchuck Centennial Park, but it’s critical to find out as threats are mounting – from retaliatory killing from herders, loss of habitat to farmers and poaching for their pelts. And then there’s climate change. Warming at high elevations in the Himalayas is causing treelines to ascend and isolating snow leopard populations. Under a high emission scenario, as much as 30 percent of their range could be lost. Their ability to move northward is limited by oxygen availability,’ said WWF.
Bhutan actually ranks among one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world and has an incredible range of habitat type due to its location. ‘The warm southern part of Bhutan supports wildlife that is usually associated with a tropical-jungle climate. As one progresses north, the wildlife changes accordingly as the elevation increases. Bhutan falls under one of the ten global biodiversity ‘hotspots’ with many animal and plant species. Considering her size, Bhutan has the most diverse ecosystem at lease in Asia,’ reported the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN). In fact, Bhutan has close to 200 species of mammals. These include ‘some of the globally significant Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard, Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens), Takin, Golden Langur, Asiatic Elephant, and the Himalayan Musk Deer,’ continued RSPN.
Bhutan’s diverse biodiversity and the ‘Snow Leopard Prey’ survey completed at Wangchuck Centennial Park, emphasized the success and importance of Bhutan’s conservation areas. The report highlighted encouraging outcomes at Bhutan’s newest national park. It confirmed the rich fauna present throughout Bhutan and displayed amazing images of ‘snow leopards scent-markings, a sub-adult snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, threatened Himalayan serow, musk deer and a healthy population of blue sheep, the main food source for snow leopards,’ said World Wildlife Foundation. These images show that not only are Snow Leopard populations thriving, but also that many other unique animals are.
There are ten national parks in Bhutan covering 16,396.43 square kilometers, which is more than a quarter of the country. On 12 December 2008, the Wangchuck Centennial Park was the most recent to be established, and was ‘launched as a tribute to the visionary, selfless leadership of the Wangchuck dynasty,’ said RSPN. It is located in central-northern Bhutan and is the country’s largest park, covering 4,914 square kilometres. It is also home to hundreds of species such as ‘244 vascular plant species, 23 mammal species and 134 bird species, the park is rich in biodiversity,’ reported WWF. However, these were the first images taken in this ‘vital snow leopard corridor’ between Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in the West and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the East. “For snow leopard conservation in Bhutan, Wangchuck Centennial Park acts as the critical linkage between Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), thereby ensuring the functionality of the northern Bhutan conservation complex,” said Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Royal Government of Bhutan.
The Government of Bhutan and WWF have partnered to co-manage Wangchuck Centennial Park ‘because it was designated as Bhutan’s tenth national park in 2008,’ highlighted WWF. This isn’t the first time they have partnered. The Government of Bhutan and WWF work together on many species ‘conservation projects, climate change studies, monitoring, patrolling and community conservation projects,’ reported WWF. In fact, protected areas systems were initiated as early as the 1960’s reports RSPN. ‘Its (the governments) dedication is what has resulted in Bhutan having more than half its land under protection,’ concluded WWF.
WWF Bhutan’s Conservation Director, Mr. Vijay Moktan, said “after JDNP this is the 2nd National Park that promises a future for safe refuge of this globally endangered BIG CAT. WWF will continue to work with the royal government to assess snow leopard population status and their distribution patterns across its habitat in Bhutan. Hopefully, we will have a well informed Snow leopard Conservation Action Plan for the Kingdom of Bhutan in the next 2-3 years”.
This incredibly successful project highlights the importance of governments and organisations working together to help conserve the world’s rich natural heritage. Without such cooperations, many conservation areas run the risk of failure. With human populations worldwide increasing yearly, space is at a minimum. Our conservation areas must continue to be protected, evaluated, and developed. That is why this success is a timely reminder of the exceptional work being completed by WWF.
“The snow leopard images from the park show the incredible richness of wildlife thriving in Wangchuck Centennial Park and prove why the park must be supported,” concluded Dr. Pema Gyamtsho.
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