It’s official: the beautiful and majestic snow leopard is no longer endangered according to the Red List maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The international body, responsible for documenting and classifying the conservation status of all flora and fauna, reclassified the snow leopard after 45 years. From endangered, the large mountain cat has been brought down to vulnerable status. In simpler terms, the risk of fewer prey and poachers is less now for the snow leopard, though it still looms. The change came after three years of assessment, with experts suggesting that around 4,000-10,000 snow leopards may be alive and well in the mountains of Central and South Asia. To celebrate the milestone, here’s a look at 5 national parks in India where you can spot the snow leopard for yourself. ALSO READ: 5 beautiful places to see in India before they disappear
Hemis National Park, Jammu and Kashmir
A snow leopard yawns in Hemis
Hemis National Park, located in scenic Leh, Ladakh, is one-of-a -kind in many ways. It is the only national park that lies north of the Himalayan mountains and is the second-largest contiguous protected zone in India. It is also the largest notified protected area and national park in the country. Most notably, it is said to have the world’s highest density of snow leopards within a protected zone. With these credentials, Hemis is probably the best place to spot the snow leopard.
Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
The morning sky over the Great Himalayan National Park, Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located in Mashyar in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, the Great Himalayan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ‘outstanding’ biodiversity. Most of the animals here have been given the highest-priority protection level according to the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. Take a 35-45 km trek through the national park’s valleys, you’ll be right in the habitat of the snow leopard, apart from other fantastic species like the blue sheep, Himalayan Tahr, Himalayan brown bear and musk deer.
Gangotri National Park, Uttarakhand
The Ganga River flowing through Gangotri Valley
Lying in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, the Gangotri National Park is the third-largest in India, spread across 2,390 square kilometers of coniferous forests, majestic mountains, pristine glaciers and open meadows. Inside this park also lies the Gaumukh glacier, from which the Ganga River flows. Because of this, Gangotri is also a popular religious pilgrimage site. And for bird watchers, the park shelters around 150 species. CHECK OUT: 10 places in Uttarakhand thatll make you fall in love with the state!
Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Khangchendzonga National Park spreads across most of northwestern Sikkim. The reserve is most famous for being home to the third-highest mountain peak in the world and the highest in India: Kangchenjunga. It even gets its name from the famous peak. One of the few high-altitude national parks in the country, Khangchendzonga is also home to several glaciers, including the famous Zemu glacier. The Tholung Monastery, one of Sikkim’s most sacred monasteries, lies in its buffer zone.
Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
A rusty fronted Barwing at the Namdapha National Park
Spread across 1,985 square kilometers, the Namdapha National Park is the single largest Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. Located in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district, the park is made up of vast stretches of low-lying rainforests between the Himalayan mountains. In fact, it has the northernmost lowland rainforests in the world. Here, you can not only spot the snow leopard, but also three other large cats: the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard and clouded leopard. NOW READ: How to reach Namdapha National Park
The IUCN’s reclassification is big news, and a massive win for conservation efforts. But the battle for survival is far from over. While protected areas have increased and local communities have stood up to protect the animals from poachers, conservationists warned against getting too complacent. Snow leopards are still vulnerable, and it’s important to keep conservation efforts alive in order to give these big majestic cats a chance to remain in the mighty mountains.