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Celebrating Snow Leopards through art, culture and traditions

YK Poudel

The Choki Traditional Art School (CTAS) in Thimphu celebrated International Snow Leopard Day with the launch of a book titled “Cheychey the Snow Leopard.”

This book serves as a platform to discuss the fading art, culture, and traditions while emphasising the importance of preserving them and supporting underprivileged communities.

International Snow Leopard Day is dedicated to raising awareness about the endangered Panthera uncia (snow leopard) and underscores the significance of preserving this vulnerable species.

The event had Thimphu dzongdag as the chief guest, with the attendance of Kawang Gup, CTAS students, and representatives from various agencies.

A book titled ‘Cheychey the Snow Leopard’ was launched at the event

Dzongdag Phub Dorji highlighted the country’s commitment to addressing challenges related to increasing human-wildlife conflict and acknowledged the positive impact of initiatives like CTAS and its contribution to the growing snow leopard population while safeguarding the livelihoods of herder communities.

Dorji Wangmo, director of CTAS, said that the concept of the book was inspired by the nature of the snow leopard and the declining traditional arts and crafts in Bhutan.

CTAS, known for its role in preserving Bhutanese traditional arts, connected these two aspects to raise awareness about their services in promoting arts and crafts, as well as the importance of conserving endangered species.

The snow leopard has become CTAS’s school mascot, and an animated video featuring snow leopard characters communicates their mission to empower underprivileged youth with knowledge and creative skills. Incorporating the significance of the snow leopard in Bhutanese culture through traditional art serves as a powerful means of raising awareness and garnering support.

Letro, deputy chief forestry officer from the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS), emphasised the vibrant conservation policy and community-based efforts to protect wildlife in Bhutan.

He noted that the involvement of local communities plays a crucial role in preserving these species.

The killing of the snow leopard is listed as a fourth-degree felony under the Forests and Nature Conservation Act 2023, highlighting the seriousness of offenses against this species.

Snow leopards, often referred to as the ‘ghosts of the mountains,’ face a global population decline, estimated to be between 4,080 and 6,590.

Bhutan’s National Snow Leopard Survey 2022-2023 recorded an increase in the snow leopard population in the country, with 134 leopards confirmed, marking a 39.5 percent increase from 2015.

Despite this positive trend, the snow leopard remains vulnerable, as designated by the IUCN Red List. Without continued protection, the species could still face extinction.

Bhutan, with extensive snow leopard habitats along its northern region adjacent to India and China, holds the potential to serve as a source population for snow leopards in the surrounding area.

Snow leopards are threatened by habitat degradation, prey depletion, human conflicts, poaching, and climate change, along with habitat overlap with other large carnivores like tigers and common leopards.

As part of the event, participants were sensitised on the importance of preserving endangered species, engaged in an art competition, witnessed the premiere of the CTAS animation video featuring the Snow Leopard as the central character, and celebrated the launch of the comic book “Cheychey the Snow Leopard.”

This event marked 25 years of CTAS’s existence and was held in partnership with WWF Bhutan.