In zone of conflict, a survivor is spotted for the first time

The snow leopard, a species never seen earlier in any Kashmir region outside of Kishtwar, has now been spotted and photographed in Kargil, site of conflict with Pakistan 12 years ago.

"For us it is great news,'' said Ameen Ahmad, senior coordinator of WWF-India, a field team of which captured images of the endangered animal with sophisticated, infrared camera traps. "Earlier, we were not sure whether there are any snow leopards in that region as the area has witnessed long hostilities." Aishwarya Maheshwari, who heads the field team and is now in Leh, was equally enthusiastic.

Two years ago, WWF-India in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir's wildlife department had installed the camera traps at various places in Kargil and Drass region of Ladakh, part of a project called 'Study and distribution of snow leopard, its co-predators and their prey at Kargil and Drass in Jammu and Kashmir'.

A trap close to the Line of Control took 500 pictures from two "captures". "Now we have evidence and can initiate projects to conserve the species," said Ahmad. "Counting of snow leopards can be started." The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates the number of snow leopards in India at 200 to 600, but there is no specific count for Jammu and Kashmir.

J&K chief wildlife warden A K Singh is optimistic about a high count of snow leopards after the Centre begins a conservation project in states that have snow leopards.

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