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How many snow leopards in Bhutan?

Local yak herders guide research team to locations where snow leopards are likely to be. Photo Tshewang Wangchuk.

Tshewang Wangchuk of the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas is breaking new ground with snow leopard research techniques that don’t involve capture and collaring of the cats. Instead, Tshewang, who is the Bhutan Foundation’s Conservation Adviser and recipient of a National Geographic Society Waitt grant, has collected almost 300 hundred snow leopard droppings (scat).

Remains of blue sheep, a wild sheep that is snow leopard prey. Photo Tshewang Wangchuk.

The scat will be analysed to establish the population of the cats and the areas of their preferred habitat. So far it looks like the western part of Bhutan has more snow leopards, it is both drier than the east and also has more prey like the wild blue sheep.

“We want to see how effective it is to use noninvasive techniques. Other research methods are very intensive and you have to put in a lot of effort. For each scat sample collected we use GPS co-ordinates so later on we can go back and see which animal was found in which area and find out how connected animals are. It will not be very long before we come up with a population estimate.”

Field staff getting training with mapping, sampling, monitoring techniques. Photo Tshewang Wangchuk.

Tshewang also involves local people and local researchers in this work.

“We find the locals have a treasure trove of knowledge. There is a lot of indigineous knowledge that provides us with information of what the animals do and where they are. Local people not only have knowledge but they are very dedicated and take great interest in what we are trying to do.

“We need to build capacity at local level. We can’t always depend on a biologist flying in from London or from New York, coming in and doing our research for us and then leave and we don’t have the capacity. With this intention we place a lot of emphasis on empowering local researchers with training and equipment.”

See National Geographic video of Tshewang’s snow leopard research here.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Hasan Rahman January 22, 2011, 5:00 am

    It is a fascinating project. Bhutan and especially it’s Jigme Dorji Wangchuk national Park where snow leopard shares habitat with tiger is a remarkable place. We have great deal to learn here. i wish a great success of this project. Thank you.


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