The wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh has incidentally captured an ‘abandoned’ snow leopard cub from the cold desert of Spiti in the hill state.

The six-eight month-old wild animal is housed at the animal quarantine centre in Himalayan Nature Park at Kufri, 18 kilometres away from state capital Shimla for last two days.

Official sources said the cub got captured from a sheep pen in Gue village (known for its 500-year-old mummified remains of a Buddhist monk) on the Indo-Tibetan border on the complaint of villagers.

Sources said the villagers had brought to the notice of the local forest staff that in just four days, 43 sheep and goats were killed by a wild animal. When the wildlife staff positioned a cage in the pen, the cub got trapped in it.

The snow leopard cub was brought to Kufri, the nearest available rescue centre (involving a distance of over 350 kilometres from Gue), by road on Saturday amid Covid-19 curfew in the state.

Wildlife wing officials said the snow leopard cub seems to have either got separated from mother or was abandoned. (Normally, the cubs start living independently after 18 months)

“The animal is in stress, dehydrated and has some injuries. It is very weak under observation in the animal quarantine centre at Kufri,” said senior veterinarian and Assistant Director, Wild Life, Dr Sandeep Rattan. Dr Rattan and Dr Rohit Sharma are taking care of the cub in Kufri.

Wildlife wing officials said the killings of sheep and got were happening every day as the wild animal may not have been fit to kill prey in the wild due to some internal injury and was probably on the lookout for easy food in livestock.

However, when the cage was positioned, a cub was trapped in it. “The animal is so small and weak that it could not have survived on its own in the natural habitat,” the official said. The cub would be released in the natural habitat only after it recovers and is fit to survive independently, he added.

The survival of Snow leopard, rare and elusive species, is challenged by poaching and loss of habitat. In Himachal, they are found in upper Spiti area, parts of Chamba and Kinnaur district and in Lahaul. The population estimation of snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh is being done under a programme of Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in association with the state wildlife wing. For this, camera traps have also been laid at different places.

The wildlife officials share that over 40 snow leopards have already been traced in different parts of HP, and the total population is anticipated to be around 100 in the state, which will finally become clear after the estimation is complete.

Snow leopards are found in five states in the country, including HP, J&K, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.

While some experts have expressed apprehensions over the translocation of the wild animal from its natural cold desert habitat to the relatively warmer zone, the wildlife officials in the state said the temperatures in Kufri were fine to house a snow leopard. Snow leopards have been kept in Himalayan Natural Park earlier also as it is a designated zoo for the breeding facility for snow leopards as per Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

It is a separate matter, however, that captive breeding of the snow leopards could not be done for some other reasons.