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Snow leopards and prey thriving in Bhutan's protected areas

14 February 2012

Phenomenal new camera-trap footage from Bhutan shows that rare snow leopards and their prey species are thriving in vital protected areas and corridors. But there's lots to do to keep them safe from threats of poaching and climate change.

Snow leopard, night-time camera trap image, Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan, October-November 2011 © Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF

The first ever snow leopard prey survey in Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan’s newest national park, has revealed not only astonishing footage of snow leopards but a healthy population of blue sheep, the main food source for the leopards, as well as images of the Tibetan wolf, wild dog, red fox, Himalayan serow, musk deer, pika, pheasants and several birds of prey.

Watch some of the snow leopard video footage here...



The clips above show:

  • Night shots of a snow leopard (Panthera uncia) visiting its 'relic' site at 4,200m in Phudongphu. This is a spot where it repeatedly marks its territory.
  • The daylight shots show how well-camouflaged snow leopards are. They've evolved to live in some of the harshest conditions on Earth, and their almost-white coat spotted with large black rosettes blends in perfectly with the steep and rocky terrain.
  • The footage ends with some fantastic night-time shots of a prowling snow leopard, its eyes reflecting the camera light, and its powerful canine teeth clearly visible. This endangered species is the top predator in the high Himalaya. Its only predators are humans.
Why this snow leopard camera trap footage is important
This is the first pictorial evidence that snow leopards are thriving in Wangchuck Centennial Park, a vital snow leopard corridor between Jigme Dorji National Park in the West and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the East.

Field biologists from the government of Bhutan and WWF captured over 10,000 images during the camera trap survey - including the great shots below of blue sheep and an endangered musk deer (itself poached for its coveted musk pod).

Blue sheep, camera trap image, Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan, October-November 2011 © Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF
The automatic cameras were set up to locate snow leopard 'hot-spots', and the results suggest that the network of protected areas and corridors is helping to link local snow leopard populations, which will be invaluable to ensure long-term survival of snow leopards in the region.

Snow leopards are elusive and endangered, with around 4,500-7,500 in the wild. Bhutan is the only country on Earth where the habitat of snow leopards and tigers intersect. It’s unknown how many exist there, but it’s critical to find out as threats are mounting - from retaliatory killing from herders, loss of habitat to farmers and poaching for their pelts. And then there’s climate change.

Musk deer, night-time camera trap image, Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan, October-November 2011 © Royal Government of Bhutan (DoFPS) and WWF
Warming at high elevations in the Himalayas is causing treelines to ascend and isolating snow leopard populations. If climate change continues unchecked, as much as 30% of the snow leopards' range could be lost. Their ability to move upslope is limited by oxygen availability.

The overall goal of the survey is to determine how many snow leopards there are in Wangchuck and where they exist, in order to prioritise the best areas for conservation.


More than half of Bhutan's land area is now under protection. We've co-managed Wangchuck Centennial Park with the government of Bhutan since it was designated as Bhutan’s tenth national park in 2008 - the first time Bhutan entrusted an entity other than government to manage a protected area.

We work together on species conservation, climate change studies, monitoring, patrolling and community conservation projects. With 244 vascular plant species, 23 mammal species and 134 bird species, the park is rich in biodiversity.

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