Snow leopard and prey distribution

Factors affecting snow leopard & wild-prey at multiple scales 

A multi-scale approach provides understanding on how different factors are working to shape snow leopard and wild-prey occurrences and relative abundance at large and fine spatial scales.

  • Walking with a Gaddi herder along the Chenab River, Lahaul.

  • The core area of the Pin Valley National Park is a heavily grazed area

  • Sheep being herded to pasture from a camp-site in the interior of Pin Valley. Sheep and goat are often separately grazed on gentler and steep-cliff-dominated terrain, respectively.

  • Kibber village, its agricultural area, and the cold-desert landscape in Spiti Valley.

  • The apparently barren slopes along the Chandra River are one of the most heavily grazed areas. Upper Chandra River, Lahaul.

  • A camp-site of migratory herder in Pin Valley

  • Walking snow leopard sign transect, Spiti.

  • Surveying for ibex in one of the tributaries of Ensa nala, Pin Valley

  • A large group of livestock grazing near Chandra Tal, Chandra Valley, Lahaul

  • A herd of ibex, Spiti

  • Research team's camp-site at Haronaro, Ensa nala, Pin Valley

From large to fine spatial scale

For a wide-ranging species like snow leopard understanding its distribution at large-spatial scale is necessary to better inform conservation management at state or regional scale. At the same time examining how wild-prey of snow leopard and the habitat gets affected by different forms of natural resource use is needed to manage wild-prey populations and habitat at the level of a valley / catchment.

Migratory grazing & snow leopard habitat

Decline in wild-prey population due to rangeland degradation by livestock grazing is a serious problem to snow leopard conservation. While impacts of resident livestock grazing has been documented, impact of migratory livestock grazing remains poorly understood and has been socio-politically contentious, being more often dealt through activism than science-based ecological evidence.

Objectives

  • Examining changes in and factors affecting distribution of snow leopard and its primary prey, bharal and ibex
  • Evaluate effect of migratory livestock grazing on vegetation and relative abundance of wild-prey of snow leopard
  • Assessing underlying drivers of changes and future directions in migratory grazing practices

People

Partners

  • Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (Wildlife Wing)

Funding

Publications

  • Journal Article
    2017
    Impact of wild prey availability on livestock predation by snow leopards. 
    Royal Society Open Science, 4(6), 170026.
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    PDF, 566 KB

    An increasing proportion of the world's poor is rearing livestock today, and the global livestock population is growing. Livestock predation by large carnivores and their retaliatory killing is becoming an economic and conservation concern. A common recommendation for carnivore conservation and for reducing predation on livestock is to increase wild prey populations based on the assumption that the carnivores will consume this alternative food. Livestock predation, however, could either reduce or intensify with increases in wild prey depending on prey choice and trends in carnivore abundance. We show that the extent of livestock predation by the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia intensifies with increases in the density of wild ungulate prey, and subsequently stabilizes. We found that snow leopard density, estimated at seven sites, was a positive linear function of the density of wild ungulates—the preferred prey—and showed no discernible relationship with livestock density. We also found that modelled livestock predation increased with livestock density. Our results suggest that snow leopard conservation would benefit from an increase in wild ungulates, but that would intensify the problem of livestock predation for pastoralists. The potential benefits of increased wild prey abundance in reducing livestock predation can be overwhelmed by a resultant increase in snow leopard populations. Snow leopard conservation efforts aimed at facilitating increases in wild prey must be accompanied by greater assistance for better livestock protection and offsetting the economic damage caused by carnivores.

  • Journal Article
    2017
    Assessing changes in distribution of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia and its wild prey over 2 decades in the Indian Himalaya through interviewbased occupancy surveys
    doi:10.1017/S0030605317001107
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    PDF, 585 KB

    Understanding species distributions, patterns of change and threats can form the basis for assessing the conservation status of elusive species that are difficult to survey. The snow leopard Panthera uncia is the top predator of the Central and South Asian mountains. Knowledge of the distribution and status of this elusive felid and its wild prey is limited. Using recall-based key-informant interviews we estimated site use by snow leopards and their primary wild prey, blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica, across two time periods (past: –; recent: –) in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. We also conducted a threat assessment for the recent period. Probability of site use was similar across the two time periods for snow leopards, blue sheep and ibex, whereas for wild prey (blue sheep and ibex combined) overall there was an % contraction. Although our surveys were conducted in areas within the presumed distribution range of the snow leopard, we found snow leopards were using only % of the area (, km). Blue sheep and ibex had distinct distribution ranges. Snow leopards and their wild prey were not restricted to protected areas, which encompassed only % of their distribution within the study area. Migratory livestock grazing was pervasive across ibex distribution range and was the most widespread and serious conservation threat. Depredation by free-ranging dogs, and illegal hunting and wildlife trade were the other severe threats. Our results underscore the importance of community-based, landscape- scale conservation approaches and caution against reliance on geophysical and opinion-based distribution maps that have been used to estimate national and global snow leopard ranges.

  • Popular Article
    2017
    From pastures for none to pastures for all
    SAEVUS, September-November, 36-41
  • Dataset
    2017
    Data from: Assessing changes in distribution of the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia and its wild prey over 2 decades in the Indian Himalaya through interview-based occupancy surveys.
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.hp4b3

    The data set has occupancy values and local extinction probability values for 88 grids/sites of 15km X 15km each, for snow leopard, blue sheep, Asiatic ibex and wild prey (blue sheep and ibex combined), across an area of 14,616 sq.km in the Himalaya and Trans-Himalaya mountains of Himachal Pradesh, India.

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