Green Wire: Snow Leopard Successfully GPS Collared in Nepal’s Himalayas (with Photos)

In October, as the world’s conservation community and 12 mountain nations of Asia convened in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek for the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum, I reported for Nepali Times that “A WWF Nepal team will be traveling to Kangchenjunga next month to radio collar snow leopards.”

“The Kangchenjunga region offers the best possibility for successful conservation and study in Nepal because of its altitude and the chance to study climate impact,” Ghana Shyam Gurung of WWF had told me in Bishkek at the time. You can read my report on Nepal’s snow leopard conservation as published by Nepali Times here.

In the mean time, the WWF team has completed their collaring work as planned. Below, images and press release of the collaring project, as released by WWF today.

Press Release: Snow leopard successfully collared in Nepal’s Himalayas

Kathmandu, Nepal – Nepal created new strides in snow leopard conservation with the historic collaring of a snow leopard using satellite GPS technology in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.

The snow leopard, an adult male approximately five years of age, weighing 40kg and with a body length of 193cm was captured, fitted with a GPS Plus Globalstar collar (Vectronics Aerospace Inc., Germany) and released back into the wild at 10:45am on 25th November 2013.

The snow leopard about to be darted for collaring. All photos of collaring by WWF.

The snow leopard about to be darted for collaring. All photos of collaring by WWF.

The collaring expedition that lasted 45 days beginning 7th November was led by the Government of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in partnership with WWF, National Trust for Nature Conservation, and Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council/Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. WWF Nepal provided both financial and technical support for the collaring expedition.

Darted snow leopard being examined and measured.

Darted snow leopard being examined and measured.

“The snow leopard collaring is indeed a new win for Nepal,” stated Mr. Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. “It reiterates the commitment of the government to strengthen measures to better understand and protect the snow leopard whose survival is under threat from anthropogenic actions and the pervasive impacts of global climate change.”

This is the first time that satellite-GPS technology is being used in snow leopard collaring in Nepal. Prior collaring work on the species used VHF technology in the early 80s and 90s. The collaring expedition also marks the first time that local communities through citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees have been involved and who played a key role in identifying snow leopard hotspots for tracking purposes through ongoing camera trap monitoring operations, participating in the collaring operations, and managing local logistics.

Collaring the snow leopard.

Collaring the snow leopard.

Snow leopards are highly elusive creatures and given the terrains they reside in, monitoring work on the species is a highly challenging task. While past studies on the snow leopard have been limited to areas that are accessible to people, this technology will help provide important information on the ecology and behavior of the wide ranging snow leopard.

Through data received from the satellite collar, it will be possible to determine their movement patterns, habitat use and preferences, home ranges to identify critical core habitats and corridors between them, including trans-boundary habitat linkages and climate resilient habitats.

After being collared, and as the effect of the dart begins to wear off, the snow leopard awakens.

After being collared, and as the effect of the dart begins to wear off, the snow leopard awakens.

“Nepal’s Himalayas are a rich mosaic of pristine habitat, freshwater and wildlife species including the iconic snow leopard,” stated Mr. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. “The success of the collaring expedition opens up new frontiers in snow leopard conservation as well as new avenues to profile Nepal as a living laboratory to help build on international collaboration in conservation science.”

The existing snow leopard conservation projects in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area include snow leopard monitoring using camera traps and prey-base monitoring with the partnership of local citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees, a population genetic study using fecal DNA, and a livestock insurance scheme built at reducing human-snow leopard conflict.

The snow leopard, all set to  be on its way, with a GPS collar around its neck.

The snow leopard, all set to be on its way, with a GPS collar around its neck.

“The snow leopard conservation program has given the local communities the opportunity to build their own capacities in snow leopard monitoring,” stated Mr. Himali Chungda Sherpa, Chairperson of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. “This is further aiding the overall understanding amongst the local communities on the importance of protecting the species thereby building on our commitment towards snow leopard conservation.”

 

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