Tsewang Norbu is among the many villagers in Matho, who, in September 2015, took possession of one of the special predator-proof corrals, constructed and handed over to members of the local community by WWF-India and the Department of Wildlife Protection, Jammu & Kashmir.
In the wee hours of the morning of March 20, 2016, the WWF-India team, working in the Western Himalayas, received a panic call from Tsewang Norbu, a villager from Matho, Ladakh. Norbu was calling to report a snow leopard breaking into his neighbour’s corral and carrying off a calf.
The snow leopard had initially set its sight on his own livestock, said Norbu, who had seen the snow leopard circling his livestock pen the night before. “After several attempts, the animal had perhaps found my livestock inaccessible and hence approached my neighbour’s corral,” he added.
Tsewang Norbu is among the many villagers in Matho, who, in September 2015, took possession of one of the special predator-proof corrals, constructed and handed over to members of the local community by WWF-India and the Department of Wildlife Protection, Jammu & Kashmir. These new corrals are expected to effectively reduce human-wildlife conflict by safeguarding villagers’ livestock from snow leopard attacks, thereby helping reduce retaliatory killings of snow leopards by angry herders.
Surviving in the Himalayas
High up in the Himalayas in Ladakh, where food and water resources are scarce, survival is an everyday battle for local communities. With agriculture possible only for a short period of four months in these cold desert regions, people depend heavily on animal husbandry for their livelihood.
Frequent snow leopard attacks on livestock, therefore, become a cause of major economic distress for the villagers - inciting them into killing the already endangered species, in retaliation.
To reduce this stress on the local communities as well as on the wildlife in this region - and to manage human-wildlife conflict, WWF-India along with the Department of Wildlife Protection, Jammu and Kashmir, formally handed over 14 predator-proof corrals to the local communities of three villages in Ladakh - Tuna, Matho and Yangthang. The villagers now own and maintain these specially designed enclosures that provide full protection to their livestock from snow leopards.
The Reason for Human-Wildlife Conflict
As one of those regions that are most vulnerable to, and directly affected by, a changing climate and global warming, the Himalayas have been seeing unprecedented weather conditions over the past few decades. Rising human population in the region and a growing market for Pashmina wool also contribute to intensive animal husbandry in the region. Most of these domesticated goats and other livestock graze in open fields, often competing with wild herbivores that are the natural prey of snow leopards. Overgrazing, an obvious consequence of intensive animal husbandry, therefore, results in degradation of fragile habitats.
Shy and elusive by nature, snow leopards typically keep away from human habitation, confining themselves to the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. However, as the animal’s prey base and habitat is getting increasingly and directly affected by human activities, snow leopard attacks on domestic animals such as yaks, cows, dzos, sheep and goats, have become more frequent in the past few years in Ladakh. According to studies conducted by WWF-India in the past decade, attacks on livestock by wild predators such as the snow leopard, black bear and wolves have increased sharply, leading to increased conflict between humans and snow leopards in the region.
Managing Conflict with Economical and Smart Corrals
Smartly designed and constructed by WWF-India’s experienced field team in consultation with local communities, the corrals are not only structured to be predator-proof but are also gradually reducing villagers’ resentment towards the predator and making local communities more optimistic.
“The morning after we started using the newly-constructed corral, we saw snow leopard pugmarks right on top of it. It seems the animal had wandered atop my pen last night. But thanks to the predator proof corral, the animal couldn’t reach my cattle and wreak havoc on my livelihood”, says Ishey Angmo, a resident of Matho village, Ladakh.
WWF-India’s Work in the Western Himalayan Landscape
WWF-India has been working in tandem with the Department of Wildlife Protection, Jammu and Kashmir since more than a decade, to protect biodiversity and maximise livelihood options in the high-altitude Western Himalayan Landscape. The conservation organisation’s goal is to help increase snow leopard populations to at least 100 adult animals by 2020 and to conserve them through the support and involvement of local communities.
In order to achieve its goals and to protect the livestock/livelihood of communities while reducing retaliatory killing of the snow leopard, WWF-India has installed 14 predator-proof corrals across Ladakh. With support from individual contributors, the organisation has also been able to install camera traps across 30 locations to monitor snow leopard populations and conflict hotspots. Data, thus retrieved, along with prey surveys and community interviews, helps WWF-India understand snow leopards, their prey, habitat and the various threats they face to formulate science based conservation interventions.
Your support can help us save the snow leopard and its fragile habitat in the Himalayas. Learn more about the Save our Snow Leopards campaign at support.wwfindia.org/sos/ or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.