Conserving large-bodied species such as large carnivores alongside human habitation often involves monetary and human costs to resident peoples. In order to further co-existence in wildlife habitats where local people live and use natural resources, there is a need to estimate and offset economic costs, and also to make wildlife conservation beneficial to them. This understanding has come alongside the realization that centrally-administered preservationist programs relying entirely on the use of force to attain conservation goals have limited applicability in wildlife habitats owned or traditionally used by local communities.
In the Spiti Trans-Himalaya, our ecological research had established that intensive livestock grazing had out-competed wild herbivores from the rangelands, and this in turn had presumably intensified the levels of livestock predation by the snow leopard Uncia uncia and the wolf Canis lupus. We studied this human-wildlife conflict in detail, and found that the consequent economic losses suffered by people were considerable, and their resentment occasionally led to persecution of these endangered carnivores.
In 2002, as part of our larger conservation programme, we set up a livestock insurance program in Kibber Village that was designed to share and offset the economic losses that local people were facing due to livestock predation by wild carnivores. Prior to our intervention, the villagers were bearing these costs largely on their own; the existing government compensation scheme was offsetting a mere 3% of the estimated loss, and instead of mitigating the conflict, was leading to greater hostility towards wildlife.
Our locally managed (at the village level) insurance programme was designed not only to offset economic losses due to livestock depredation, but to also reduce the extent of depredation by providing financial rewards to herders for better anti-predatory herding.
The insurance programme was received with great enthusiasm, though in the first year, some families were understandably skeptical. In the third year, three adjoining villages of Gete, Tashigang, and Kee also joined the Kibber livestock insurance programme. For the larger village of Chichim, we started an altogether new insurance programme. More than 100 herding families are benefiting from this programme in Spiti. In 2006, learning from our experiences in Spiti, we have also started a community based insurance programme with four villages in the Gya-Miru region of Ladakh, and important site for conservation of the snow leopard and the Tibetan argali Ovis ammon.
As a result of the insurance programme and our other efforts, the attitude of people towards wildlife conservation has also undergone a radical change. This is evidenced by a complete cessation of large carnivore persecution. In the past, the villagers occasionally assisted army personnel passing through the area in hunting wild herbivores. Since we started our programme, the villagers have already twice turned away army personnel intending to hunt, warning them that such activities will not be tolerated.
Conservation Output Over 100 families in five villages of Spiti are participating and benefiting from the insurance programme, which has entered its fourth year
A similar sized programme covering four villages has been started in the Gya-Miru region of Ladakh
Better anti-predatory livestock herding is reducing the extent of livestock losses to wild carnivores
The programme has helped alleviate peoples' tolerance towards snow leopard and wolves. Villagers have stopped persecuting carnivores, or driving them away from kills.