High Altitudes

Conservation Champions: Lahaul-Spiti & Kinnaur

Spiti, the quaint Buddhist enclave in Himachal Pradesh has been one of the prime areas for our studies on snow leopards - their behavior, how they interact with other wildlife and livestock, and the overall landscape ecology. To protect these endangered cats, we initiated several community based conservation works that’s conducive to the people, wildlife around them and the ecosystem protection of the region.

Most of the people in the region are traditional agropastoralists and herders who share the same habitat with this wildlife. They are also dependent on natural resources for their livelihood and sustenance. Involving locals, imbibing their perspectives and molding conservation initiatives around wellbeing of the people, the wildlife and their multilayered interactions has helped us sustain many grassroots efforts in the landscape as it’s the people who are at the core of any community led initiatives on ground. Through their engagement we have been able to initiate community managed livestock security programmes, village managed grazing-free reserves, predator-proofing of corrals, conservation education, outreach and conservation based livelihood programmes.

Much of our research studies and conservation work are primarily focused on Spiti and Ladakh while there is a piercing need to expand the work, to engage more communities and incorporate larger landscape level interventions. To broaden the scope, we started engagements with locals in Lahaul and Kinnaur on a preliminary level. Through these we have identified individuals who are concerned and willing to engage on deeper conservation works in the region.

Like Spiti, the conservation challenges are uniquely characteristic to Lahaul and Kinnaur and by creating a network of such conservation champions we endeavor to better understand the local ecology, other factors impacting the landscape dynamics, people’s interaction with the wildlife and the challenges they are facing. Through them we hope to facilitate conservation dialogue & action in the landscape, strengthen their capacity and devise locally appropriate solutions for not just conservation (livestock depredation, crop raiding) but also larger landscape issues the community is facing.

Last year (March 2020) we started capacity building workshops with our champions from Hangrang valley in Kinnaur who will be the key point of contact for any wildlife related problems and in the most recent case, they helped report livestock depredation cases to the local wildlife department and avail compensation for the herders. Similarly our visit in Lahaul in March 2021 (Keylong, Udaipur, Miyar, Thirot and Jispa) helped us gain firsthand understanding of the landscape and insights into specific conservation challenges like crop raiding by brown bear, and issues of free ranging dogs which poses great threat to domestic livestock and other wildlife in the region. Apart from on ground intervention and community grassroots mobilization works, we also hope to bring out local stories of conservation, insights on indigenous knowledge systems, traditional practices and the stories reflecting larger human-nature relations in the landscape.