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The Uttarakhand forest department has decided to begin first ever snow leopard tours in high altitude areas of Uttarkashi district to promote conservation along with sustainable tourism.

Harsil, often said to be the “mini Switzerland of India”, is at the banks of the Bhagirathi river. A tweet from the Uttarakhand Tourism’s Twitter handle said that the tourists will be selected on first come first serve basis.

The tours are part of the SECURE Himalaya Project — Securing livelihoods, conservation, sustainable use and restoration of high range Himalayan ecosystems.

It is an “endangered” animal as listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The programme is reportedly led by the Indian government and United Nations Development Programme(UNDP). With Global Environment Facility (GEF)’s support, it aims to work towards the conservation of “locally and globally significant biodiversity” and the land and forest resources in the upper Himalayan ecosystem.

Uttarakhand launched India’s first Snow Leopard Conservation Centre in Uttarkashi last year. The state reportedly has 86 snow leopards.

The tours are expected to begin in February. It is the first time such tours are being held.

The snow leopard is a Schedule I animal under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, under which the animals are provided absolute protection and offences under this Schedule are prescribed the highest penalties.