On May 3, 2020 after repeated complaints from locals about a snow leopard killing around 40 head of livestock in Gue village, the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department captured a snow leopard and transported it to Himalayan Nature Park Kufri in Shimla. The animal had gotten trapped in a corral before being captured.
However, the next day, news spread that the snow leopard captured was, in fact, a cub and not the big cat that had killed the livestock. The captured snow leopard was alleged to weigh just seven kg., and at the same time another snow leopard was sighted in Gue. In the following days, videos of locals claiming that another snow leopard, presumably the captured cub’s mother, was in the vicinity, began circulating on social media. Reports were also made of a calf being killed by a snow leopard near Gue. On May 13, a camera trap caught a snow leopard killing livestock in Gue, leading locals to believe that this was the animal that the FD had meant to capture and was now perhaps calling out for its cub. According to media reports, the juvenile is estimated to be as young as six to eight months old.
A video of a local from Gue village claiming that the snow leopard that killed livestock was still roaming, presumably calling for its cub, began circulating on social media on May 8.
Despite clear evidence that the wrong snow leopard was captured - that too, a cub - the FD is yet to release the animal. According to news media reports, members of the FD said that the animal may be used for captive breeding for conservation purposes. When the Central Zoo Authority wrote a letter to the Chief Wildlife Warden, asking why it hadn’t been released, the FD replied that the animal had gangrene in its tail and would be released after recovery.
A snow leopard scientist who spoke to Sanctuary stated that captivity is not a viable solution and sets a wrong precedent among local communities that human-wildlife conflict is best solved through capture of the “problem” animal. According to the Snow Leopard Trust, removing a snow leopard that has killed livestock will not solve the problem of livestock predation, as most snow leopards may kill livestock when they have a chance. An individual extracted from the wild is a permanent loss to the wild population. If an individual is captured every time livestock is killed, the species could potentially go extinct in the wild.
Instead, the forest department must work with local communities to promote snow leopard conservation and create community-based conservation programmes that benefit both wildlife and people.
Every day that a wild animal is kept in captivity, it grows more unfit for release back into the wild. The situation worsens far more quickly when the animal is young. Snow leopard cubs stay with their mothers for upto 18 months before dispersing to lead independent lives as adults. Sanctuary urges the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department to release the mistakenly captured snow leopard cub so that it may be reunited with its mother and lead a life in the wild.
Image of snow leopard used above is for representative purpose only.