Pithoragarh, July 19, 2015

The rare sighting of a snow leopard at the Sundardhunga glacier in Bageshwar last week and the seizure of rare species of two-mouth snakes at Roorkee in Haridwar district have again drawn the attention of animal lovers towards endangered wild animals of the state.

According to wildlife lovers, some of the rare species, which are on the list of disappeared animals of the WWF and other world animal organizations, include mostly animals that are found at higher Himalayan altitude of the state such as snow leopards, leopard cat, musk deer, Himalayan black beer and birds such as state bird Monal and fish such as Mahasir (found in Himalayan cold waters). “The number of these species is speedily shrinking in the Himalayan belt due to poaching or encroachment upon their habitats,” said AK Das, an expert in the Himalayan species of fish.

Top predator Him Bagh threatened
Locally known as  ‘Him Bagh’ or ‘Burfani Cheetah’, snow leopard inhabits above 3,000 metre high altitudes of the Himalayas and is the top predator of the Himalayan ecosystems.  It preys on blue sheep, musk deer, Himalayan tahr, and many small mammals.

Him Bagh is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List. This beautiful, rare and elusive large cat is a threatened species as it is poached for skin and bones for illegal international trade, and retaliatory killing to reduce livestock loss.

After the first ever photo capture of the endangered snow leopard in Uttarakhand on April 10, 2011, and then series of subsequent sightings, the focus on snow leopard conservation has increased manifold. The number of snow leopards is speedily decreasing due to shrinking snowline and poaching. They are now rarely seen in Uttarakhand Himalayas though they were sighted in Bageshwar last week.

Dr Bipul Maurya, who is doing a study on snow leopards and had been successful in tracing them at the Nanda Devi Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sindadhunga glacier, says the existence of snow leopards at 4,100 metre high mountains of the state is significant for wildlife lovers, as it also indicates the possible existence of other disappearing animals there. “We could find a snow leopard in one of the eight cameras installed at the Sindadhunga glacier range. We hope some more rare animals and snow leopards will be seen in the coming days,” said Maurya.

“Snow leopard is hunted by poachers for its sparkling skin and other parts which are used in medicines in the Chinese medical system,” said RS Bisht, chief wildlife warden of Kumaon.

Gall bladder used in medicine
Himalayan black bear and brown bear are hunted for their bile or gall bladders, which are smuggled to far east countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan for use in oriental medicinal systems prevalent in those countries for curing digestive disorder diseases. “The animal is poached by laying leg hold traps, shooting or by capturing cubs,” said Paramjit. Bears are also killed for their paws, meat and fat that are also used for making medicines in far eastern countries and in Ayurveda. “We have very few Himalayan black bears left in the higher reaches of the state as humans have encroached upon their habitats and their prey have also disappeared.” say experts.

Hunted for skin, bones
Besides tiger, leopard is also an endangered animal in the Himalayan region. Earlier leopards were killed for their skin, but now they are being killed for their bones to be used in medicines in China. The body parts of poached leopards from high hill areas and tigers from plains are smuggled to China. “Against one tiger skin, we have seized over seven leopard skins. This shows that leopards are being hunted in a greater number than tigers,” said Ashok Kumar, a wildlife expert with the Wildlife Trust of India. Besides poaching, loss of habitat due to excessive human activity has led to speedy fall in the population of leopards in the Himalayan region.

Hunted for abdominal Kasturi
It is another much hunted and disappearing wild animal of the Himalayan region. Musk deer is a high altitude deer found at a height of 2,300 m to 4,300 m in the Himalayas in Sikkim in India, Nepal and Bhutan. It is a highly sensitive animal and is hunted by poachers as male deer possesses a special gland in abdomen that consists of very expensive scented fluid known as Kasturi, which is used in more than 150 Ayurvedic, Siddha, Unani and Tibetan medicines. The species was listed as endangered in 1952 and the Uttar Pradesh government before the birth of Uttarakhand opened two musk deer protection and study centres at Mahrori in Pithoragarh district and Kanchulakhark in Chamoli district in 1972. “The population of musk deer, which had a count of 50,000 in the Indian Himalayas, has not been more than 600 in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. It is a highly poached animal among all wild animals,” said Paramjit Singh, a wildlife expert.
Courtesy: The Tribune

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