Back in 2016, during the country's first survey, 96 snow leopards were counted. Now in the 2022-23 survey, there are 134.
Conservationists are breathing a small sigh of relief after learning that the beautiful snow leopard has been growing in numbers. The extremely elusive big cat exists in the wild only in the thousands. Due to human-wildlife conflict, loss of prey, poaching, habitat destruction and climate change, these animals have been struggling to survive. Conducting surveys in the mountain terrain is also rather challenging. This is why an increase in their numbers in Bhutan is an incredibly welcome piece of news. The presence of 134 snow leopards has been confirmed in Bhutan by the National Snow Leopard Survey 2022-2023, reports WWF. Back in 2016, there were only 96 of them recorded. Since then, there has been a 39.5 percent increase in their population!
The beautiful creature currently resides in twelve countries across Asia's high mountains. As a top predator, the animal is a crucial indicator of the health of their mountain habitat. The restoration of their numbers is a hopeful sign that conservation efforts to restore snow leopard habitat and combat poaching are indeed working. It is illegal to harm or kill these creatures as they are listed as a protected species. Karma Tshering, Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, said that even though the survey results confirm Bhutan as a stronghold for snow leopards, "it is also a species in peril; the IUCN Red List designates the snow leopard as Vulnerable. Without protection, this magnificent species could face extinction in the near future."
While the good news is welcome, it is a reminder that efforts must continue to keep the numbers growing. According to the survey, Bhutan can serve as a source population for snow leopards in the region. Dr Pema Wangda, the Executive Director of the Bhutan for Life Fund Secretariat, added: "It is indeed exciting to learn that the snow leopard population in Bhutan is increasing, and this result indicates a healthy alpine mountain ecosystem, which is a critical water source for millions of people downstream. Bhutan for Life is privileged to be part of this conservation initiative through our financing mechanism."
More recently, a near-threatened subspecies of white rhinos were saved after they were put up for auction. Conservation group African Parks announced that it will rewild 2,000 southern white rhinos over the next decade after buying the world's largest private captive rhino breeding operation in South Africa. The NGO matched the bid to rescue and rewild the rhinos to safe and well-managed protected areas across Africa. "We will be working with governments and NGOs across the continent to translocate these rhinos and make this vision a reality. We recognize the unique position we are in to provide a meaningful conservation solution and ensure these rhinos become a real asset in the long-term protection of the species and wild ecosystems," they mentioned on Facebook.
White rhinos are the second-largest land mammals in the world and are victims of poaching. It is believed that there are only 18,000 southern white rhinos left and they are considered to be a near-threatened subspecies. The northern white rhinos, of which, there are only two surviving members (both female), are found in Kenya, while most of the southern white rhinos are found in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. The latter subspecies hit an all-time low of 30 to 40 animals in the 1930's. However, through productive conservation measures, the numbers soared to more than 20,000 in 2012.