Bhutan Snow Leopard Numbers Increase 40 Per Cent; Are The Mountain Top Cats On The Upswing?

Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) inhabit a high mountain habitat in many of Asia’s mountains. Reports that Bhutan snow leopard numbers have jumped 40 percent joins other good news about the cats from China and elsewhere.

Photo by David Ogden on The cats have a similar spot pattern to leopards. They are different enough to have their own rung on the feline family tree.

The World Wildlife Federation reported the announcement recently dateline Thimpu, Bhutan. The country counted 134 of the cats in its second survey of the nation. That is up from 96 in the inaugural count. Bhutan is a Himalayan country bordering India and China. It is close to Nepal.

Despite their superficial resemblance to leopards snow leopards are genetically closer to tigers. According to Britannica:

“Formerly classified as Leo uncia, the snow leopard has been placed—with the liontiger, and other big cats—in the genus Panthera. Because of the presence of certain skeletal features, such as having a shorter skull and having more-rounded eye orbits than other big cats, the snow leopard has also been classified by some authorities as the sole member of the genus Uncia. Genetic studies show that the common ancestor of snow leopards and tigers diverged from the lineage of big cats about 3.9 million years ago and that snow leopards branched from tigers about 3.2 million years ago.” (Links in original)

A Marmot with a Branch
A Marmot with a Branch by National Gallery of Art is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0 Marmots are on he smaller side of snow leopard prey which also includes various wild sheep and deer.

Today there are as many as 7,000 of the cats. They inhabit about a dozen Asian countries including China, India, Russia and surrounding countries. Like all snow leopards the Bhutan snow leopard inhabits a belt between 6,000 and 18,000 feet in elevation. Accredited zoos worldwide may hold as many as 700, About one-third of those are in the United States.

Bee nest
Honeybees may play a role in the future of snow leopards. Encouraging native peoples to raise bees for honey and wax reduces conflict. If the people produce honey they make money and their livestock is no longer a target for opportunistic snow leopards.

China reports success with maintaining snow leopards in their part of the range. Chinese media says the cats have stabilized in numbers in Tibet. Tibet is a formerly autonomous region tightly controlled by Beijing. Meanwhile in Kyrgyzstan conservationists are taking a novel and apparently successful approach. They are encouraging residents to tape up beekeeping. Beekeeping replaces animal husbandry and other potential sources of conflicts with the cats. It is lucrative as honey is a treasured commodity. It also helps protect bees, which have suffered from Colony Collapse Disorder. According to the National Pesticide Information Center more than 60 stressors that may help cause the syndrome have been found. Although still a major concern the number of hive collapses has been falling since 2008.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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