Nepal’s Snow Leopard Project Hopes To Change Opinions
A new study in Nepal hopes to show predation of local livestock by snow leopards is less than first thought. With the people of Eastern Nepal relying very heavily on yak herding for their livelihoods, revenge killings of snow leopards in retribution for killing livestock are all too common. As with many people who live and herd livestock amongst predators, the choice between personal and communal need often clashes with the needs of wildlife.
The study will conduct scat analysis to determine how much of a snow leopard’s diet consists of wild protein vs domestic livestock. It is already assumed in the region that snow leopards are preying on livestock, however it is not known to what degree. This data will serve to determine what snow leopards are choosing to eat. It is also possible the data can help prevent human-wildlife conflict. Using hard science, it may be possible to prove that snow leopards aren’t preying on livestock as much as is assumed.
(Photos courtesy of Kanchenjunga National Park, Makalu Barun National Park, and Belt-Project.Org)
Officially a part of the KTK-BELT Project, (Koshi-Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihoods Terra) the study will focus on the area between the Kanchenjunga National Park and Makalu Barun National Park. Also bordered by the Qomolangma Nature Preserve in China, the Lumbasumba Conservation area is high-alpine region less than 50 miles from Mount Everest. The national parks allow for free movement of snow leopards and their prey; however, the area in between does not allow for safe trans-boundary passage.
Blue sheep, one of the primary prey species for snow leopards, are hunted for meat and killed for grazing in areas designated for livestock. Without a safe way to travel between conservation areas, blue sheep are finding it increasingly difficult to avoid conflicts with humans. Their low numbers also contribute to more livestock predation by snow leopards. This predator-prey dynamic is currently not understood since an accurate survey of both snow leopards and blue sheep has not been conducted. Researchers from KTK-BELT, Inc. will not only survey blue sheep, they will collect data on age and sex ratios via sight and camera traps.
(Photos courtesy of RainForestTrust.Org: by Madhu Chetri (top); Wikipedia.Org (bottom))
The highland pastoralists suffer economically from low income and very few opportunities outside the national parks. Consisting of about 5,000 indigenous Bhote people, the study area is populated by one of the most disadvantaged ethnic communities in the country. Living in such a harsh and isolated region has made it difficult for many families to meet their basic needs.
As with many of SCI Foundation’s projects, this project will ultimately serve to provide an alternative to herding in the form of wildlife conservation. Herder families will be provided tents, mats, and smokeless stoves along with educational material provided by KTK-BELT, Inc. Conservation strategies will be shared with the Bhote as well to promote support at the local level to keep snow leopards and blue sheep on the mountains. The herder families’ traditional knowledge of the Bhote will also be used to help conduct surveys and set camera traps as they are the ultimate stewards of this land. Without their knowledge and experience, locating some of the most elusive species on earth would be extremely difficult.
(Photo courtesy of RainForestTrust.Org: by Madhu Chetri)
SCI Foundation is excited to support its first project in Nepal and learn more about the predator-prey dynamics in a region famous for the highest point on earth, Mount Everest. This wildlife and humanitarian project will help uplift the people who call ‘snow leopard country’ home and offer them a chance to exercise stewardship over their wildlife. Stay tuned for further updates.