The Conservancy’s model for Community-based Stewardship of Snow Leopards
The India program grew from our activities in Ladakh and through our partnership with the Mountain Institute. Working closely with Rinchen Wangchuk and associates like Nandita Jain, Wendy Lama and Rezino Lepcha, we tested and refined innovative techniques for engaging local people in community based conservation of snow leopards and their prey.
We produced a poster, Good Livestock Husbandry is Good for Snow Leopards, in the traditional style of thangka painting. This poster helped local communities to conceptualize the relationship between conservation, improved livestock management and potential sources of income to help offset economic losses due to unavoidable, inevitable livestock depredation by wild predators.
A series of special children’s books in five local languages highlighted the attitudes of children toward wild creatures and made livestock owners more aware of their guarding responsibilities.
In 2003, we registered SLC-India Trust as an environmental and social NGO under Indian law. Until his tragic passing in 2011, Rinchen Wangchuk led SLC-IT and a dedicated Ladakhi team in major accomplishments in snow leopard conservation. In 2010, SLC-IT began working independently of Snow Leopard Conservancy as it’s own organization. For more information and how you can help SLC-IT protect snow leopards please visit their website http://www.snowleopardhimalayas.in/
Highlights of Accomplishments
- We initiated a corral predator-proofing program in order to prevent retributive killing of snow leopards by livestock owners. By 2007, 21 individual and 22 community corrals had been predator-proofed, benefiting 19 settlement in Ladakh and Zanskar. For every community’s winter corral predator-proofed, we believe that up to five or more snow leopards are effectively removed from risk of being trapped or poisoned by angry herders.
- Working with the Mountain Institute and a grant from UNESCO we launched the award-winning Himalayan Homestays program.
- We invited local travel agents, government officials, non-profit organizations, experts and villagers to attend planning workshops. When these workshops generated the idea of traditional homestays, we honed village women’s skills as “innkeepers” and operators of “parachute cafés”. We interviewed tourists to assess their knowledge of (and interest in) the area’s fauna, flora and cultural heritage. In 2004 we were able to transfer many of these ideas to community-based tourism initiatives in Spiti under a partnership with MUSE (see the Muse report 2007-2009.pdf and Field Notes from Spiti.pdf]. Then in 2006 the homestay program was expanded to Zanskar, which offers prime habitat for snow leopards, but is very remote and impossible to reach in winter except by helicopter or the long ice-river trek described in a field report by Rodney Jackson. By 2010, thanks in large part to the incredible protection efforts of the local people, government and SLC-India Trust, snow leopards in Hemis National Park and the Sham area are regularly seen by tourists and locals alike. Indeed, we consider Hemis to be the “snow leopard capital of the world.” The J&K Wildlife Department assumed control of homestay program in 2010, with SLC-India Trust turning its attention to homestay development in Zanskar and Nubra.
- Between 2002 and 2005, working in collaboration with the J&K Wildlife Department in Hemis National Park, we pioneered the use of noninvasive camera traps to assess snow leopard abundance and better estimate the population size of this shy, rarely seen cat. A detailed handbook on camera-trapping snow leopards can be downloaded here. The scientific paper describing this technique, which is being applied in other parts of the snow leopard’s vast range, can be downloaded here.
- Since 2006 SLC-US has maintained a partnership with a Pune-based NGO, Kalpavriksh, to initiate education activities throughout Ladakh. See this page in our Education section for details of this program.
Read our annual reports, in the Publications section, for more information on our programs in India and elsewhere.