Communities residing within the snow leopard range in India are traditionally agropastoral and pastoral. Agropastoral communities in Ladakh and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) cultivate crops like barley and green peas while also rearing livestock like goats, sheep, horses and cattle (cows and yaks) for their livelihood. Some communities are pastoral and practice a nomadic life while moving with their herds. Livestock is an important source of income and resources for these communities.
Threat from wild predators and economic loss due to depredation
Livestock are typically housed within circular pens or corrals. Traditionally corrals are made from layers of loosely placed stones and boulders. As these communities share this landscape with rare high altitude wildlife including carnivores like snow leopards and wolves, chances of livestock depredation by carnivores is inevitable.
Several traditional corrals are vulnerable to attacks by carnivores, especially if the structure has openings (open tops, gaps in doors, windows etc…) through which carnivores can enter. Vulnerable corrals are also prone to incidents of surplus killing in which a carnivore may enter the corral and kill multiple livestock in a single event of depredation. Such incidents cause enormous financial stress and mental agony for a herder and their family. Sometimes herders may resort to retaliatory killing of predators in response to incidents of surplus killing.
Research, consultations and conservation action for reducing loses
Consultations with herders indicated that certain corrals are at a greater risk of attack by carnivores, based on the location of the corral and the period of the year. A possible solution to this challenge was identified as predator-proofing the corral so as to prevent the possibility on an entry to a carnivore. Vulnerable corrals were identified; these include both individually owned corrals and ones that are used communally by a larger number of households (10-30 households). We began reinforcing vulnerable corrals to make them predator proof in the village of Himya (Ladakh) in 2011 and later extended the effort into other parts of Rong valley and Changthang in Ladakh. We started corral reinforcements in Spiti from the hamlet of Salung in 2013.
Our teams now work closely with herders in responding to incidents of livestock attacks inside corrals by helping them predator-proof them. Such an exercise involves closing any openings through which the predator can gain entry. The work involved may range from fixing grills, to replacing windows, to covering the open ceiling with frames of wire mesh, to reconstructing the entire structure in some cases. The requirements are jointly identified while the community takes responsibility for executing the construction work. The structures are also periodically surveyed to identify maintenance requirements. Communities often back this effort with a commitment to cause no harm to wildlife in future.
Over the last ten years, we have reinforced over 100 vulnerable corrals in Ladakh and Spiti. Predator-proofing of corrals has been found to minimize losses across the snow leopard range. We continue to work with communities in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh to document cases of surplus killing, identify conflict hotspots and reinforce vulnerable corrals.