And the Snow Leopard Facing Crisis
By Our Wildlife Correspondent
It is a strange change of behaviour for the bears and tigers in the Himalayas and its foothills. Tigers are going up and bears are coming down in the mountain ranges. Normally, tigers, a carnivorous by nature, prefer to stay in the lower riches of the mountain ranges for their prey base. Himalayan Brown Bears which are omnivorous like relatively upper parts where it gets enough food.
Nepal is an international model for tiger conservation but its successes in increasing the big cat population mean protected areas are getting crowded, in turn leading to a sharp decline in prey density.
“Tigers do not leave their territory unless it must, so they are out looking for new habitats,” explains Haribhadra Acharya of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). “While their sightings are proof of our conservation success, it also adds to the challenge. Contact with people outside parks has increased, which is worrying,” he said.
Brown bears have been seen moving into villages and towns of the Himalayas and even attacking people in states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. There are incidents of villagers killing such stray animals and, in some cases, they have been trapped and relocated. The bears are normally coming in search of food. It is a cause for concern since the Himalayan subspecies is highly endangered and populations are dwindling.
On the other hand, after a century of decline, overall wild tiger numbers are starting to tick upward. The big cats’ population is stable or increasing in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia and China. Both the animals foraging on different levels might also be due to the impact of climate change in the Himalayas besides availability of food, some experts feel.
There are conflicting reports of the number of rare snow leopard populations. Some reports claim that their number has reportedly increased in both India, Nepal and Bhutan, now their main habitat, mainly due to various conservation measures. But other reports contradict that the numbers are not accurate and even declining. Apart from the number game the snow leopard also faced the pressure from increasing population of tigers, leopards and now wolves.
To survive it is going up the Himalayas. Until a few years ago, snow leopards were believed to be the only surviving apex predator in this part of the Himalayas. Apart from the number game and the threat from other big cats, the species now has a bigger threat from a lesser animal wolf whose common prey base is Naur the Blue Sheep found in its territory.
New research now shows that the wolves’ reemergence could already be impacting Naur populations, and thus snow leopards in many areas of Nepal. Conservationists say snow leopards are already having to deal with the upward shift in habitat of common leopards and tigers. Snow leopards, because of their shy nature, size, and style of hunting, stand to lose the most as the wolves and the big cats move in, they say.
Source: Himalayan News Chronicle