Following 148 days of camera trapping in the Rolwaling valley (from June to November 2019), NTNC-GCAP's research team led by conservation officer Bishnu Prasad Pandey have obtained pictures of the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) via camera traps for the first time in the valley. Earlier this year, a similar biodiversity research study in Lapchi valley had recorded the first photographic evidence of the top mountain predator in Gaurishankar Conservation Area.
Rolwaling valley is a high mountain wilderness area popular among trekking tourists, and serves as a favorable habitat for snow leopards. The study team has recorded three snow leopard events at elevations of 4536 meter above sea level. All three camera trap instances point to the same individual, possibly a female. Photo analysis reveals that the snow leopard is different than the one recorded earlier in Lapchi valley.
Together with the snow leopard, the latest study has also recorded first camera trap evidences confirming the presence of Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus) and Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) in GCA. The Himalayan wolf was recorded from the cameras installed in Tsho Rolpa (4536 m), Yalung pass (4956 m) and the upper ridges of Dudhkunda Lake (5091 m). Although their existence has been confirmed in the past from social surveys and sign surveys, these are first photographic evidence of the second top mountain predator in the conservation area. Camera trap image of red panda was recorded at 4072 meters elevation on the thickets of Juniper-Rhododendron anthopogon scrubs.
A total of seven protected wildlife species have been recorded from this survey. Camera trap records obtained included that of the Musk deer (Moschus leucogaster) recorded near Naa village, and the Himalayan monal (Lophophorus empejanus), that is also the national bird of Nepal. Satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra) and Assamese monkey (Macaca assamensis) were other protected species physically observed during the study.
To carry out the study, the conservation area has been divided into four major blocks— Lapchi, Rolwaling, Numbur-Marbu, and Sindhupalchok. Following the Lapchi block study, the Rolwaling block was divided into 12 number of 16 square kilometers grids, with one infrared camera installed in each grid for monitoring wildlife activity. Altitudinal coverage for the study ranged from 3742 m to 5091 m. Preferred sites for camera placement were selected on the basis of higher concentration of animal signs—fecal deposits, trails and tracks, cliff base, ridgelines and valleys.
Altogether 14 mammal species and 13 bird species have been identified from the study, with one mammal and one bird species yet to be identified. Other predator species identified included red fox, yellow throated marten and beech marten, whereas prey species consisted of Pika, Himalayan goral, Himalayan serow, Himalayan tahr, including bird species such as blood pheasant and Himalayan snow cock, Red billed chough and Himalayan monal.