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Assessing changes in distribution of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia and its wild prey over 2 decades in the Indian Himalaya through interview-based occupancy surveys

  • Abhishek Ghoshal (a1), Yash Veer Bhatnagar (a1), Bivash Pandav (a2), Koustubh Sharma (a1), Charudutt Mishra (a1), R. Raghunath (a1) and Kulbhushansingh R. Suryawanshi (a1)...
Abstract
Abstract

Understanding species distributions, patterns of change and threats can form the basis for assessing the conservation status of elusive species that are difficult to survey. The snow leopard Panthera uncia is the top predator of the Central and South Asian mountains. Knowledge of the distribution and status of this elusive felid and its wild prey is limited. Using recall-based key-informant interviews we estimated site use by snow leopards and their primary wild prey, blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica, across two time periods (past: 1985–1992; recent: 2008–2012) in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. We also conducted a threat assessment for the recent period. Probability of site use was similar across the two time periods for snow leopards, blue sheep and ibex, whereas for wild prey (blue sheep and ibex combined) overall there was an 8% contraction. Although our surveys were conducted in areas within the presumed distribution range of the snow leopard, we found snow leopards were using only 75% of the area (14,616 km2). Blue sheep and ibex had distinct distribution ranges. Snow leopards and their wild prey were not restricted to protected areas, which encompassed only 17% of their distribution within the study area. Migratory livestock grazing was pervasive across ibex distribution range and was the most widespread and serious conservation threat. Depredation by free-ranging dogs, and illegal hunting and wildlife trade were the other severe threats. Our results underscore the importance of community-based, landscape-scale conservation approaches and caution against reliance on geophysical and opinion-based distribution maps that have been used to estimate national and global snow leopard ranges.

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Corresponding author
(Corresponding author) E-mail abhishek@ncf-india.org
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Also at: Snow Leopard Trust, Seattle, Washington, USA; Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India; and Saurashtra University, Rajkot, Gujarat, India

Also at: Snow Leopard Trust, Seattle, Washington, USA

Supplementary material for this article can be found at https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605317001107

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