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Surprising connection between mushrooms and snow leopards

Cordyceps, a type of mushroom found in snow leopard habitat in Bhutan and other parts of the Himalayas. Photo Wikipedia.

Dr Rinjan Shrestha is a conservation scientist for WWF-US, Eastern Himalayas Program and he’s currently in the small Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan working on a project researching snow leopards and mushrooms. Rinjan recently led a survey team that captured the first photographic evidence through camera trap survey that snow leopards are thriving in Wangchuck Centennial Park.

He is back in the field in Bhutan and sent a short report of his current activities to “Saving Snow Leopards” Blog.

“For my assignment in Bhutan, I am currently working in the central range (27° 51’ N, 90° 39’ E) of the Wangchuck Centennial Park.  Our objective has been to count blue sheep numbers and estimate snow leopard population in the region by employing direct counts and camera-trap surveys, respectively. So far, we have completed blue sheep counts. The camera traps were systematically laid out in late winter and early spring this year. I expect the first round of data to arrive by the last week of May, 2012.  I’m also planning to assess the impact of Cordyceps (mushroom) collection on the activity and movement of snow leopards in the region.

Cordyceps is a type of fungi (mushroom) also called the Chinese caterpillar and the name intriguingly means “summer plant and winter insect” because of its changing appearance in the seasons. They have for hundreds of years been regarded as medicinal by the Tibetans and Chinese and are collected by people in the high ranges of snow leopard habitat.

Bhutan snow leopard habitat

From left: Gempo Wangdi, Tenzing Wangdi, Dr Rinjan Shrestha, Leki Dorje, Nawang Tashi and Tenzing.

The information collected by Rinjan and his team  is vital to understand the health of snow leopard populations in this part of Bhutan and we look forward to hearing the outcome of his work in months to come.

Rinjan says “The photo here shows my field crew, consisting of park ranger, Tenzing Wandga, forester Leki Dorje (an expert high-altitude botanist), forester Nawang Tashi and intern Gempo Wangdi. We were also accompanied by Chhokpa, the headman of the Nasphelle village, and Tenzing, a horseman with 12 horses, who is always ready to fix tents, bags and boots with his magic needles and yak hair threads.”

You can read more on the WWF Blog.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Khenrab December 1, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Every year the no.of cordyceps collectors increasing and impact on wildlife habitat also increases as a result of degradation,littering and poaching. Cordyceps grows in open area, under shrubs and herbs.Collectors uproots all the shrubs and herbs to collect the cordyceps that i eye-witnessed during the collection time May to June.Some days rains day and night and degradation takes in the cordyceps collection site and remains behind only gravels.If such phenomenon takes place in every corner of alpine region continuously and i think Bluesheep will have no grazing area and snowleopard will have no prey too.Therefore,snow leopard conservationist should think of reducing no.of collectors and employ additional forester to minimize the illlegal collection of cordyceps.

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