Counting cats: The endangered snow leopards of the Himalayas

Nov 28, 2011

The elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia) lives high in the mountains across Central Asia. Despite potentially living across 12 countries the actual numbers of this beautiful large cat are largely unknown. It is thought that there might be somewhere between 350 and 500 distributed across Nepal's northern frontier. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Research Notes has used genetic analysis to show that the numbers of snow leopards in the central Himalayas is actually much lower than suggested.

Snow leopards prefer to live solitary lives in rugged, inaccessible habitats. Most estimates of the number of snow leopards depends on counting signs, such as tracks (pugmarks), scrapes, and their droppings (scat), camera trapping, or talking to local residents. Researchers from Nepal analyzed snow leopard scats originally collected to look at leopard diet from Shey Phoksundo National Park and Kangchanjunga of Nepal.

Despite the age of these samples (some had been stored for up to three years prior to this study) the team led by Dibesh Karmacharya was able to isolate and interpret from scats identified as in the field. They found that only 19 of the original 71 samples were actually P. uncia (the rest were other or were too degraded for ). Of the 19 positively identified samples only 10 were successfully genotyped, these were found to come from nine individuals, three males and six females, with a mix of males and female in both of the national parks.

Mr. Karmacharya commented, "In conjunction with our national and international partners we are the first team using genetics to look at conservation of snow leopards in Nepal. This method has the advantage over traditional methods - it is non-invasive and does not require us to disturb the cats in any way. We have also been able to show that traditional methods of counting snow leopards overestimate the size of the population. With more (and fresher) samples) we will be able to investigate the family relationships, genetic diversity, social structure and territories of snow leopards, and better understand how to conserve this endangered animal."

Explore further: Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

Related Stories

Nepal children to track snow leopard

Nov 08, 2011

Conservationists in Nepal have enlisted an army of school children to record the movements of the mysterious snow leopard, one of the most elusive predators in the world, a scientist said Tuesday.

Snow leopard population discovered in Afghanistan

Jul 13, 2011

The Wildlife Conservation Society has discovered a surprisingly healthy population of rare snow leopards living in the mountainous reaches of northeastern Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, according to a new ...

GPS to track blue sheep and snow leopard

Nov 06, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists hope to improve the survival odds of the endangered snow leopard in Nepal by venturing into the remote Himalayas to study its main prey, the Bharal or blue sheep.

Recommended for you

Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

May 23, 2015

Many animals feed on seeds, acorns or nuts. The common feature of these are that they have shells and there is no direct way to know what's inside. How do the animals know how much and what quality of food ...

Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

May 22, 2015

Parasitic worms can pose a serious threat to the Dungeness crab, a commercially important fishery species found along the west coast of North America. The worms are thought to have caused or contributed to ...

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

May 22, 2015

A larger brain brings better cognitive performance. And so it seems only logical that a larger brain would offer a higher survival potential. In the course of evolution, large brains should therefore win ...

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

May 21, 2015

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.