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How many snow leopards in Nepal?

The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (2003) states there are between 300 and 500 snow leopards in Nepal. While there is still illegal hunting of snow leopards and habitat loss in that country, it also appears that numbers may be increasing due to long standing conservation work in various national parks.

Everest Region

Mt Everest region. Photo by Som Ale. SLC

Mt Everest region. Photo by Som Ale 2004. SLC

The Everest region is one of the most beautiful in Nepal. Steep valleys, superb mountains and prosperous villages. The local people know there were snow leopards here but it seemed by the early 1960’s they’d disappeared. Too many people – the tourism, trekking and mountaineering which flourished since the successful climb of Mt Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953 brought much needed prosperity to the villagers but impacted badly on local wildlife.

However by the the late 1970’s much of this beautiful region had been turned into Sagarmatha National Park. (Sagamartha is the word Nepalis use for Everest, meaning Goddess of the Sky).

When I first trekked here in 1986 there were signs of conservation activity, solar water systems and reforestation everywhere.

I first met Som Ale in India on a Snow Leopard Earthwatch project in the late 1990’s. He was already a passionate conservationist who had grown up in Nepal. Today he is Dr Som Ale and on October 24th 2004 he photographed a snow leopard in this area (see photo above). Not only did he get this photo but he saw two snow leopards and the tracks of two more. This exciting sighting was the first confirmed in over 40 years.

Som Ale. Photo SLC.

Som Ale. Photo SLC.

Som realises that the local villagers may not be as delighted to see snow leopards return as he is. “People who live in this area depend on livestock, raising goats, sheep, cows, yaks and horses. Snow leopards go for baby yaks, and they kill sheep and goats.” If a cat kills an animal that costs the family a large chunk of annual income.

Education programs run by agencies like the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy to discourage local herders from killing snow leopards are important. Improving herding techniques and coming up with more effective ways of guarding livestock can prevent killing in the first place.

The Tahr is snow leopard prey. Photo Som Ale. Mt Everest Region.

The Tahr is snow leopard prey. Photo Som Ale. Mt Everest Region.

This is a great news story. Decades of protective park measures have seen a comeback of snow leopard here. Hunting is illegal and the Himalayan tahr, the major prey of the snow leopard seems to be flourishing too. Can we be optimistic about a future for the snow leopard in the wild at the foot of Mt Everest? It would be wonderful to think so. Read Som’s report on his snow leopard study in this area. He researched questions like have snow leopards now taken up residence in the Park? How far does their range go? What are the numbers of their main prey?

Read more about the snow leopards of Nepal.