Communities set aside grazing enclosures to help revive wild ungulate habitat
Livestock grazing in the Trans-Himalaya
An important conservation issue in the Indian Trans-Himalayan landscape is a complete absence of areas free from livestock grazing. Our studies established that overgrazing by Trans-Himalayan livestock is out-competing the populations of wild herbivores from these rangelands. Based on a comprehensive understanding of ecology and society in Spiti Valley of the Trans-Himalaya, we started a community based conservation programme at an experimental scale. We worked with the village council of Kibber and provided them incentives to free a part of their rangeland from all forms of human use and livestock grazing.
Following our discussions with the villagers, the council nominated a committee of 10 villagers to oversee the implementation. An agreement was signed by the council and the Nature Conservation Foundation in 1998; the village assigned an area of c.500 ha (6% of their regularly used grazing land) free of livestock grazing and human use for a period of five years. Three villagers were employed as guards to prevent free-ranging animals from entering the area, while the council itself ensured that herded livestock were not taken in.
We conducted studies and monitoring exercises to evaluate the results of our conservation efforts.
Livestock free reserve
Data on the abundance of bharal, the most common wild herbivore and important prey of the snow leopard, indicate a three-fold increase in density over the last five years within the village reserve. Furthermore, prior to protection, bharal used this area only in summer. Within two years of protection, bharal started using the area throughout the year. We are seeing spillover effects, with increasing bharal use of the pasture immediately adjoining the village reserve.
Fresh signs of the snow leopard are also found regularly within the village reserve. The monetary incentive we provided for lost grazing has been used by the Village Council for collective work and village development programmes. As part of our larger program, we also conducted a course in spoken English for the village youth. This was done on their request, and is a prerequisite to initiating nature tourism programmes in the region that can benefit both people and wildlife.
Encouraged by the response of wildlife to this effort, and by the local peoples’ enthusiasm to partner with us, we have expanded the program in its coverage and scope.
Today, across five village clusters in Himachal Pradesh, we help protect more than 420 sq. kms. of community owned rangeland from livestock grazing and human use. In the UT of Ladakh, we help protect more than 55 sq. kms. of reserves across four village communities.