<br>They are later planning to house the rare and elusive snow leopard, a species whose survival is challenged by poaching and habitat loss, at a rehabilitation centre-cum-zoo on the outskirts of Shimla for exhibiting to the tourists, if it is physically unfit to hunt.
Expressing dismay, wildlife experts annoyed with the decision to translocate the snow leopard, first of its kind by the wildlife wing, from its natural cold zone habitat to comparatively ‘warmer' climes of Shimla that is too harsh for the high-altitude species to survive.
An adult snow leopard was trapped from Gue village, famed worldwide for the 500-year-old mummified remains of a Buddhist monk, under Kaza subdivision in the Spiti Valley, some 350 km from Shimla, on May 1.
The village is close to the Indo-Tibetan border.
Divisional Forest Officer Hardev Negi told IANS on the phone that the snow leopard was trapped by the wildlife wing on the complaint of villagers of killing their sheep.
“In just four days, it killed 43 sheep. It was trapped in a cage positioned inside a pen,” he said.
According to Negi, it was the easy pray that was attracting the snow leopard to the human habitation. Otherwise, there was no report of its intrusion in the village.
“From the series of killings, it seems that the snow leopard is not fit to kill prey in the wild. There is possibility of some internal injury and is not advisable to release it in the wild,” he added.
Chief Wildlife Warden Savita told IANS that after examination the snow leopard would be quarantined in Kufri, 15 km here.
She said the wild cat would be kept in the Himalayan nature park to prevent incidents of its straying into human habitations.
“In order to minimise human-wild animal conflicts and retaliatory killings, it is advisable to keep the snow leopard in the nature park where we have adequate facilities,” she added.
“We can also go for breeding programme if the animal is fit,” she added.
Last year authorities in Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling had agreed to lend a pair of snow leopard to the wildlife wing in Himachal Pradesh for conserving bloodlines of the highly endangered species in the participatory zoos.
Officials said the breeding programme couldn't be initiated as the cats offered by the Darjeeling zoo were not healthy.
The Darjeeling zoo is internationally recognised for its over 33-year-old conservation breeding programme for the snow leopard.
“One or two instances of killing livestock doesn't mean the animal is physically unfit to hunt in the wild. It may be the easy prey that is attracting the predator to the village,” a wildlife expert told IANS.
He said the wildlife wing could depute a veterinarian from Shimla to examine the snow leopard at the spot rather than bringing the snow leopard to Shimla all through such a treacherous and tiring journey that can take the animal to even stress. “This clearly reflects insensitive approach towards such a prized species.”
Domestic animals like goats and sheep are an easy prey for a carnivore. Attacks on them often leads to retaliation by the locals.
Studies by the Wildlife Department with the assistance of the Nature Conservation Foundation show the presence of one snow leopard per 100 sq km in the upper Spiti landscape.
The department is monitoring the habitat, range and behaviour of snow leopards through camera traps (automatic cameras).
Information gleaned from these devices suggests the snow leopard population is around 20-25 in the Spiti region, an area dominated by Buddhists.
Legendary field biologist George Schaller, who has worked for nearly two decades on studying endemic wildlife in the Tibetan Plateau, has told IANS recently that the snow leopard needs protection from pastoral communities.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])