Satellite tracking snow leopards in Nepal to study climate impact

In another conservation milestone for Nepal, two snow leopards were successfully collared recently in Shey Phoksundo National Park of Western Nepal which will help scientists study the impact of the climate crisis on the habitat of the endangered big cats.

One of the elusive leopards were captured at 4,171m in Bhijer, and fitted with satellite GPS collar, and released into the wild an hour later. Zoologists are already tracking the leopards through satellite telemetry. This is the first time the snow leopard is being tracked via satellite, earlier efforts were by wildlife biologist Rodney Jackson who radio-collared the animals in the 1980s.

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“The Western Himalaya is a priority landscape, with Dolpo having the largest snow leopard population in Nepal. And collaring them will help in research and monitoring to conserve this iconic species in the wild,” said Bishwanath Oli, Secretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment.

The first snow leopard weighing 38kg was named Zeborong after the local Snow Leopard Conservation Committee in the region. Locals named the second snow leopard Samling after dolpo’s oldest monastery,  Samling weighed 33kg and was captured at 3,885m in Ngyong.

Said Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation: “Data generated from these collars will be crucial in understanding the spatial ecology of snow leopards in Dolpo and bridging the existing information gap in the Western Himalayan Landscape.”

Zeborong and Shyamling will be closely monitored by conservation biologists who are hoping that comparing their movement with Jackson’s study from nearly 40 years ago will enable them to study the impact of climate change on the leopards’ movement patterns, prey preference, home ranges and trans-boundary corridors. 

“With growing infrastructure development across the country, information received from the collaring will be key in identifying implications of linear infrastructure in snow leopard habitats, human-snow leopard interface and mitigation measures,” said Ghana S Gurung, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. “Besides contributing towards the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), the data will also help determine how snow leopard conservation moves ahead in Nepal in the face of climate change.”

The collaring expedition was led by the Government of Nepal in partnership with WWF Nepal, National Trust for Nature Conservation, and citizen scientists from the local Snow Leopard Conservation Committees. WWF-UK, WWF Belgium, WWF Canada and WWF Australia, WWF Nepal provided financial support for the collaring.

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