DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand is set to open the country's first snow leopard conservation center. The project aims at protection and propagation of the species in higher reaches of the hill state which happens to be the natural habitat of the elusive big cat.
Jairaj, principal chief conservator of forests and head of the forest force, Uttarakhand said, 'This is the first snow leopard conservation center in India. We aim to make it the best for research work and conservation efforts of the endangered species.'
The center will be built at the entry point of Gangotri National Park above 2800 meters sea level. However, no time limit has been set for the project. It will be built under central government scheme 'SECURE Himalaya'.
It is a six-year project which was launched in year 2017 to ensure conservation of locally and globally significant biodiversity, land and forest resources in high Himalayan ecosystem spread over four states- Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.
The animal is considered to be one of the most enigmatic wild cat species due to its reclusive nature which has earned it a title of ‘Ghost of the Mountains’.
The center has been designed by experts from the Netherlands with a budget of Rs 5.30 crore.
Elusive big cats are estimated over 80 in Uttarakhand but the census on the endangered species has never been conducted.
In Uttarakhand, snow leopards are found in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Gangotri National Park, Askot Wildlife Sanctuary and other places of altitude between 3000-4500 meters.
Keeping in view the reduction in the global population of the big cat estimated between 4000-6500, the first international steering committee will be meeting to step up conservation efforts for the animal was organized in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in March 2015 of which India is a signatory too.
This global snow leopard project seeks to identify at least 20 landscapes and secure them as protected areas for the species till year 2020.
India has identified three such landscapes ranging around 47,000 sq km of the area- Hemis-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, Gangotri-Nanda Devi in Uttarakhand, and Kanchendzonga-Tawang in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.