Science Buzz

India’s elusive snow leopard population at 718, reveals survey

Snow Leopard crouching on a rock covered in snow

India is home to 718 snow leopards, accounting for roughly 10-15% of the big cat’s global population. Conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Programme was carried out from 2019 to 2023 as part of the Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards (PAWS), a global effort to determine the snow leopard’s numbers.

The survey covered approximately 120,000 sq kms of snow leopard habitat across the trans-Himalayan region. After camera traps identified 214 individual snow leopards, surveyors analysed leopard trails and other data to estimate the animal’s population at 718. Ladakh, with 477 individuals, is the leading snow leopard habitat in India, followed by Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9).

The snow leopard is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In India, it is given the highest wildlife protection status. Its numbers in the wild face multiple threats, from habitat loss and poaching to infrastructure development.

Understanding the precise population of the snow leopard is important because of its role as the apex predator in the Himalayan ecosystem. Its population can indicate health of the ecosystem and help identify potential threats to its habitat, and shifts caused by climate change.