With an estimated 200-420 snow leopards, Pakistan ties India for the third largest population of this threatened cat and a national level assessment deemed the species Critically Endangered within the country. We are expanding a proven conservation model, our livestock vaccination program, into two valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan, the province with the highest concentration of snow leopards in the country. The aim of the program is to reduce the number of livestock lost to disease so herders are more tolerant of livestock predation by snow leopards. Surveys completed in 2010 identified Shimshal Valley and Khunjerab Valley as priorities. This area has one of the highest density snow leopard populations yet identified within the country and both valleys have relatively high rates of livestock depredation by snow leopards. For this project we are partnering with Gilgit-Baltistan Livestock and Wildlife Departments, and our intent is to initiate grassroots, community managed vaccination programs within each valley.
Community members known as Community Livestock Extension Workers (CLEWs) play a key role in the program. They administer vaccines as well as collect initial data from the communities during vaccination campaigns. The skill of the CLEWs as well as the community’s trust in them is important for the success of the program. In 2003, when we first piloted the vaccination program in Pakistan, CLEWs were provided a training of three days from a local veterinary doctor. However, in recent years, communities revealed that they were not comfortable with these CLEWs and feared these so called “half-doctors” would harm their livestock. Addressing this concern, we increased our trainings from 3 to 10 days.
Our new CLEWs are performing better, however a part of each community still has reservations. Further west in Pakistan, where the vaccination program has been running for five years in Chitral District, and communities have reached financial independence, we noticed a small decline in vaccinated animals in 2012. These communities unanimously relate this problem to the lack of well-trained vaccinators in their village. In these communities over 20 CLEWs were trained for three days, and many of them have stopped working. We fear that this same pattern could happen in Gilgit-Baltistan once our financial input in the program is phased out.
We hope for CLEWs to keep the program running even after our financial engagement is over, and communities assume full responsibility for vaccine payments. In order to secure this goal, we are planning an intensive CLEWs training from an established institution. After thorough review and consultations with institutes in Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad, we have selected the animal science institute at the National Agricultural Research Center, Islamabad, the leading institute in Pakistan with respect to its capacity, facilities and programs. They have an extension program where they design and conduct different levels of trainings for farmers from across the country and our colleagues there have helped develop a one month training module specifically for our CLEWs. Animal health is a core area in this training, but they will also address issues of livestock management, animal nutrition, and reproduction. We will also add lectures about conservation and training about how CLEWs should run the vaccination program and collect data according to our monitoring needs.
This summer our team traveled approximately 2,500 km overland and visited 9 of the 27 communities where we have implemented community based conservation programs with our Mongolia partner organization, Snow Leopard Conservation Fund (SLCF). We wanted to better understand the communities and threats to snow leopards by meeting with them to discuss their ecological, environmental, cultural, socio-economic, and political situation and mitigation of threats by us and other organizations.
Our team held workshops with each community to help them designate the boundaries of the area where they are taking responsibility to prevent poaching and ensure protection to the snow leopard habitat. We conducted surveys in known snow leopard habitat with the help of local community rangers, in order to make rapid assessments of the habitat quality, prey distribution, community’s seasonal land use patterns, and threats in the study area. This data will be used to create detailed maps with satellite imagery from several years, and will eventually help in monitoring the performance of our conservation programs in reducing threats faced by snow leopards and their habitats.
On the drive back to the capital of Ulaanbaatar the team visited a site in the Zavkhan province that the local government’s environment department has identified as a potential candidate for a community based conservation program. People in this area have recently been complaining about livestock losses to snow leopards and other predators. The environment department officials had attended one of our training programs in 2009, and plan to work closely with our Mongolia partner, SLCF, on developing appropriate conservation programs and enable monitoring of them in snow leopard habitat.
We learned a tremendous amount from visiting with our existing community partners, and look forward to how we will continue to expand our impact, and engage with new communities, like in Zavkhan province.
Thank you to everyone who helped us meet our goal!
We needed to raise $50,000 to ensure that our expansion plans for the year could move forward. Over 630 people stepped up to help! Thanks to these generous supporters, we can continue our successful programs and ease the conflicts between herders and snow leopards.
We are now able to work with new communities, which will protect more habitat area and more cats. For instance, the Director of Conservation and Education for our India team, Pranav Trivedi, was recently out in the field. His focus was to work on expanding our successful programs to new villages within our focus landscape.
In the Spiti Valley members of our India team recently led an activity from the ‘Living Himalayas’ workbook in 20 schools where we have established the Himalayan Nature Clubs (HNCs). The activity conducted was ‘What does garbage tell us?’, and it consisted of students learning about solid waste, focusing on which items degrade naturally, and which items do not. We also organized a teacher’s meeting and invited the teachers from all of the 20 schools with HNCs. They were asked to conduct one activity from the book on their own. The teachers were extremely enthusiastic and chose the activities they would like to carry out.
The nature education camp was held over the last two weeks of June in an area at an altitude of 4500 meters (14,763 feet). The summer was late in coming, so amidst the howling wind during the day and the freezing temperatures at night, the students forged a bond with nature. One hundred and forty eight students accompanied by twelve teachers attended the camp over two weeks. Each batch stayed at the camp-site for three days and two nights. The days were spent engaging in a variety of activities which employed all their five senses to form a better understanding of nature. At night tired and cold feet were warmed by a bonfire. Often traditional song and dances accompanied the bonfire sessions.
Mongolia is known for its vast, beautiful landscapes and the warm, generous nomadic herding families who call these remote areas home. Today the demand for Mongolia’s underground mineral resources is rapidly increasing, threatening both the traditional livelhoods of the nomadic culture and the diverse and rare wildlife. The mining practices and the resources have had very little management and there have been much uncontrolled and illegal exploration. This is alarming for Mongolian families whose livelihood depends on the pasturelands.
To date, mining (mostly coal mining) contributes nearly 30% to the Mongolian GDP. However, some remote areas must be preserved in order to maintain the integrity of the mountain pastures for both pastoralists and wildlife. With this goal in mind, conservationists, herders and government officials have been working to try to protect the Tost Mountain landscape from mining disturbances.
Nadia Tserennadmid Mijiddorj, our Conservation and Education Manager in Mongolia, has been leading this effort. In June 2012, Nadia and her team traveled to the South Gobi Provincial Center and Ministry offices in order to convince the local committee to sign a letter recommending that the national government approve our proposal to upgrade the Tost Local Protected Area to national reserve status. Nadia said that she was a little worried going into the meeting because the meeting itself had been delayed for several months.
She gave a presentation to the committee and highlighted the importance of the Tost Local Protected Area, sharing information about the rich biodiversity of the area and the importance of the habitat for a diversity of species of birds, and plants, as well as argali and ibex which play key roles for the endangered snow leopard of the area. This area also includes mountains that are rendered sacred by the local community and contains ancient rock paintings and water sources which are said to have healing properties. Located between two nationally protected areas; the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and Great Gobi National Park; the Tost Local Protected Area acts as an important corridor for wildlife.
Herders have also been using this landscape for centuries and it holds their life stories as well the stories of their ancestors. Currently the area sustains the livelihood of over 200 families, many who have been working with the Snow Leopard Trust through our Snow Leopard Enterprises program since it’s inception in 1998 and with our more recently piloted livestock insurance program.
An hour after presenting to the committee, they called Nadia to let her know they had approved the proposal letter! It is an important achievement bringing us one step closer in the process. Soon after that call, one of the elders from the Tost region called to express his gratitude to Nadia and team, “… you people have saved our motherland and at the same time many herders life and livelihood.”
Nadia told us later, “His few words inspire us to continue ahead. Although the mission is not completed and trickier stages are waiting for us, we can’t give up because they are counting on us… We are so happy to bring the herding communities’ voice to the decision making level, to become a bridge for the community while simultaneously conserving the habitat of the endangered snow leopard. All we want is to keep this beautiful land as a pristine area where people and wildlife can live peacefully.”