Bhutan has long been a leader among countries when it comes to carving its own unique path and protecting the natural resources within its borders.
The Buddhist kingdom located on the Eastern edge of the Himalayas ranks first in South Asia for such things as economic freedom, peace and being the least corrupt. It’s also famous for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness—a philosophy and an index designed to measure the collective happiness of the nation.
So it’s not entirely surprising that the tiny country is now leading the way on yet another front—the preservation of endangered snow leopards.
Called “ghosts of the mountains” by the Himalayan people because of their ability to mysteriously appear and disappear with equal stealth, snow leopards have long been classified as endangered in Bhutan, according to Lonely Planet.
Habitat loss and poaching have had a devastating impact on this legendary animal, which now exists in the most remote regions of the mountainous country. The creatures—whose beauty was once described by author Peter Matthiessen as the “very stuff of human longing”—are often poached for their fur.
They are also killed by ranchers whose livestock the leopards prey on.
However, there appears to be some cause for renewed optimism: A 2016 census found a higher than expected population living in Bhutan’s remote mountain valleys, allowing for the elusive leopard to recently be reclassified as “vulnerable.” That designation means “likely to become endangered unless circumstances improve.”
Conducted by Bhutan’s Department of Forests and Park Services, the census counted about 96 leopards. Because the animals have a reputation for being impossible to find, the documentation of nearly 100 creatures is being described as an achievement. Most of the leopards were discovered in Bhutan’s 10 national parks, which protect 42 percent of the country.
This small, but notable victory is due in large part to the country’s environmental policies and conservation measures.
The efforts have focused on protecting animals that the leopards prey on, such as the Tibetan blue sheep, while also reducing poaching, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. In addition, in Bhutan, snow leopards are listed as totally protected wild animals under the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995, according to Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper.
Bhutan’s progress aside, the global population of snow leopards is still estimated to be less than 10,000—perhaps closer to about 2,500, Kuensel reported. In addition, the United Nations recently issued a press release noting that by 2070, climate change will make two-thirds of snow leopard habitats inhospitable.
The animals adapt to habitat loss by changing their movement patterns, which may render currently protected areas ineffective, exposing the animals to new threats.
(The writer is an award-winning travel writer with more than two decades of experience) [Courtesy: travelpulse.com].