There’s no leopard like the snow leopard. One of the world’s most elusive cats, the snow leopard is native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, where it lurks at elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 metres. Adapted to hunt and thrive in places like the Himalayas thanks to their thick white-grey fur and black spots, snow leopards are historically threatened by poachers and a climate change-induced shink in habitat. Simultaneously, loss of prey, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction are also causing this ethereal species to decline.
But in a joyous and unexpected turn of events, Bhutan has announced a nearly 40 per cent increase in snow leopards since 2016, bringing their population in the area to 134. According to Snow Leopard Trust, there are only between 3,620 and 6,390 snow leopards left in the wild globally, so this increase comes as a sigh of relief to conservationists.
With the numbers confirmed by the National Snow Leopard Survey 2022-2023, Country Director for WWF-Bhutan Chimi Rinzin describes the increase as a “milestone achievement for Bhutan’s conservation journey.” The survey, which covered more than 9,000 square kilometres of snow leopard habitat across the northern alpine landscape of Bhutan, included 310 camera trap stations to capture the species. Not only did the survey record snow leopards in new locations, it also found an overall density of 1.34 snow leopards per square kilometres.