At a talk delivered at The Bangalore International Centre last week, Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director, The Snow Leopard Trust, reminisced about his days as a young researcher in Kibber, a village in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh.
“I went to Kibber as a PhD student 23 years ago. There, my assumptions of a harmonious co-existence came into question. I heard of a snow leopard entering the village and killing some livestock. Before it could escape, the villagers killed it.
People beat the carcass and cursed it for killing their livestock.”
This incident led Charudutt to question: “Who was the perpetrator? Was it the snow leopard? Or the people who killed this beautiful and endangered species so brutally? Similarly, who was the victim? Was it the snow leopard that was hungry or the people whose livelihood was threatened?” Thus began Charudutt’s more than two-decade long career of conserving snow leopards. “We started with conservation initiatives, and some of the successful ones have been taken to other parts of the country, such as Ladakh as well as to countries like China, US and Mongolia.”
Charudutt said “Snow leopards are endangered and are found in the high mountains of 12 countries. Although they are solitary, we have found evidence that they sometimes move together.”
According to Charudutt, snow leopards are found in the high mountains of 12 countries, such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Krygzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, among others.
The conservation of snow leopards, Charudutt says, is complex and involves various stakeholders such as governments, tourism departments and local communities.
During the course of his research, Charudutt’s ideas of harmonious co-existence came into question even more. “One of the things we found was that livestock in these areas was overstocked. As livestock population increased, the population of wild herbivores, such as blue sheep, started to decline.” So, the leopards, in search of food, would hunt the livestock.
To address this problem, Charudutt negotiated with the villagers to set aside a part of their grazing land for recovery of wild herbivores. “The recovery we saw was quite astonishing. The blue sheep population increased. And the use of this area by snow leopards started increasing, which we had not expected.”
However, 13 years after Charudutt’s first findings in Kibber, his student, Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi came up with new findings.
“It showed that livestock predation by snow leopard intensifies, whether the population of blue sheep increases or decreases.”
Over the years, despite several challenges, Charudutt said the attitude to conservation has more or less changed. He concluded the talk with the story of how, in 2017, an aged snow leopard had entered Kibber. “The locals had detected his presence, but did not attack it. After a few days, the animal died. But instead of beating the carcass, the village gathered around the animal and mourned its passing.”