Myanmar’s snow-capped north, a haven for snow leopards

Myanmar boasts wildlife sanctuaries, lakes, marine national parks and ASEAN Heritage Parks. The endangered species inhabits Myanmar, and the Snow Leopard can be seen in snow-capped mountain areas like Phonkanrazi and Gamlangrazi snow-capped mountains.
The Gamlangrazi snow-capped mountain in the northernmost part of Myanmar is covered with snow the whole year round, and it is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. It is 19,259ft high and is home to Snow Leopard. The mountain area shares a border with India and Tibet, where the Snow Leopard inhabits among 12 countries, and is located about 15 kilometres from that tri-junction.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launches the conservation of Snow Leopard yearly. If Myanmar is listed as one of the countries where Snow Leopard lives, the country will become the 13th country in the world.
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia), occasionally called ounce, is a species of large cat in the genus Panthera of the family Felidae. The species is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Snow leopards are medium-sized cats that are well adapted for life in the cold mountains. Their coat is pale grey or cream-coloured with smoky grey or blurred black markings, allowing them to camouflage in their mountain habitat. The markings on their coat are arranged in distinct rows and get paler in the winter. After a gestation period of 100 days, a female will have two to three cubs.
The snow leopard is about 1.4 metres long and weighs 75 kilogrammes; they have short forelimbs and long hind legs, which allow them to traverse and stay agile in their steep and rugged environments. Powerful chest muscles also make snow leopards good climbers.
The Cooperation in Snow Leopard in Myanmar was conducted between 8 June 2017 and 30 June 2018 by the experts of the US and Forest Department of Kachin State with the support of Panthera Cooperation. The project included conducting training to watch the snow leopards and prey that can be hunted by the snow leopards in snow-capped mountain areas of Kachin State, studying knowledge of locals regarding the snow leopards, reviewing the chances to raise awareness on environmental conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in coexistence between the human and wildlife and reporting the findings and suggestions to keep carrying out the research and conservation measures to the Forest Department and relevant governmental departments.
Although the camera traps were placed in the project areas, no snow leopard was recorded, but other endangered species were recorded. The locals and researchers still believe that there will be snow leopards on 10,000 feet high snowcapped mountains for the record of inhabitant of snow leopards in India, Bhutan and China and the finding of locals on Phonkanrazi and Gamlangrazi snow-capped mountains.
“The snow leopard research was conducted once with PC. They live over 10,000 feet high, so it is not easy to conduct research with the staff separately. It costs a lot. There is only news that there are snow leopards in the snowcapped mountains of Myanmar, and we don’t have a record photo. According to my experience, there might be snow leopards,” said Daw L Kay Si Yoon, head of Khakaborazi Wildlife Sanctuary.
The snow leopards are referred to as “ghosts of the mountains” and “kings of the mountains” by the researchers. Their habitat range stretches across parts of countries – Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Their habitat covers a range of 772,204 square miles, and 70 per cent remains unexplored.
The snow leopard population declined year by year, and it was found first that the snow leopards and common leopards shared the same habitat on the Tibetan plateau in 2017. Their pasturelands are disappearing due to the climate change. The 12 countries cooperate to save the big cats.
The world’s endangered snow leopard species face various threats, including hunting, illegal wildlife trading, mining, and infrastructure construction. The melting of glaciers is another threat to snow leopards and other animals. UNEP has noted that the decline of snow leopards around the world may be a reason why people forget about them. Moreover, it is estimated that two-thirds of the habitats of this majestic species are expected to be lost by 2070.
UNEP launched the Vanishing Treasures Project, aiming to ensure the peaceful living of wildlife and humans, find possible ways to make extra income and reduce human-wildlife conflict.
China is home to over 60 per cent of all snow leopards in the world, so the snow leopards indeed live on Phonkanrazi and Gamlangrazi snowcapped mountains. Research on the existence of snow leopards can be done only once in the northernmost part of Myanmar. If the study is conducted continuously, their habitat can be known clearly, benefiting the country in the tourism sector and showcasing the beauty of Myanmar to the world.
Myanmar is ready to work with the 12 countries that boast snow leopards to prove the existence of the big cats one day.
Translated by KTZH

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