Ladakh’s Rinchen Wangchuk and Dr Tsewang Namgail have rendered yeoman service towards saving snow leopards of the region while empowering local residents.
Snow leopards caused a lot of nuisance to farming communities and suffered retaliatory killings. Today, there are a little over 250 snow leopards left in Ladakh.
While working as a naturalist, Rinchen wanted to find incentive-based conservation initiatives to help farmers and get them involved in conservation efforts.
So, he established the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT) in 2000. He also secured corrals that housed the livestock.
Richen found that retributive killings of snow leopards took place due to multiple livestock killings when the predators managed to enter poorly constructed corrals.
He helped local people build 200 corals using stone, brick, and wooden beams to support the steel wire mesh on the top, benefitting around 5,000 people.
“We estimated that for every corral we build, we could save at least two snow leopards,” says Dr Namgail, who is the current director of SLC-IT.
In 2003, the duo also started India’s first successful community-based snow leopard conservation effort in Rumbak through the promotion of homestays.
“The same people who killed these predators in the past are now inviting tourists to their villages to see snow leopards and other wild critters,” says Dr Namgail.
With these homestays, residents are earning between Rs 15,000 and Rs 2.5 lakh in a tourist season of about six months.
So far, the SLC-IT has helped establish over 200 homestays across Sham Valley, Rong Valley and Zanskar.
Many experts contend that there has been a complete shift in local attitudes towards snow leopards in the last 10-15 years.