In Search of the Snow Leopard in Nepal
Nepal has an estimated population of 350-500 snow leopards in the wild. This is approximately a tenth of the world’s population. The vast and wild terrain and the animal’s elusive nature make spotting difficult. Though snow leopard treks are organized regularly, spotting one is difficult and extremely rare. If you take a snow leopard trek, just enjoy it for the sheer magnificence and beauty of it- anything extra is a prized bonus.
The snow leopard is beautiful animal sought for its fur and bones. Even with the most stringent conservation laws in place, poachers do try and get to them. Human-snow leopard conflict is one of the main threats to the survival of the big cat. It is known to kill sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves, something the locals cannot afford to lose. The locals lead a very hard life and if their cattle are attacked by the big cat they naturally retaliate and even kill the snow leopard. Degradation of snow leopard habitat continues with as a result of grazing.
The snow leopards are distributed along its northern frontier and the districts of Mustang, Mugu, Dolpo and Humla are supposed to be prominent for snow leopard areas. There are eight mountain protected areas of Nepal where the cat is spotted They are the Shey Phuksundo National Park, the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, the Annapurna Conservation Area, Sagarmatha National Park, the Manaslu Conservation Area, the Makalu Barun National Park, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, and Langtang National Park.
A spotting of snow leopards in the Mount Everest area in 2005 hit the headlines as it was the first confirmed spotting of the elusive animal in the region since the 1960s. It is a good sign that the cat is seeking higher terrains while it is disappearing from its known habitats.
A trek to the snow leopard country in the far west of Nepal is an unforgettable experience. The massive Phoksundo Lake, high passes that offer outstanding mountain views and the rich flora and fauna are a treat for the eyes. In Shey Phuksundo, there are five snow leopard conservation committees involving herders and village leaders and elders. Increased awareness may give the beautiful animal a chance.