Slideshow: Tibet’s snow leopards, by SLN Member J Marc Foggin

November 08, 2011

Local herders are central to protecting the snow leopard in the source area of the Yangtze River. J Marc Foggin introduces a series of photos documenting the community conservation project.

The first joint planning meeting with nature reserve staff and local herders occurred in Suojia in 2007, inaugurating a new collaboration based on the key principles of “community co-management”. In a remote area of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in China’s western Qinghai province, local Tibetan herders have been actively protecting the snow leopard and other endangered wildlife in the high grasslands and mountains for more than a decade. Now, with help from non-profit organisation, Plateau Perspectives, and the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, they are also using “camera traps” to photograph the animals and better document their distribution, range and behaviour. The images presented here include some of the first photographs taken.

There are fewer than 7,500 snow leopards worldwide, according to the latest estimates from a dozen countries. Around 60% of this elusive species’ potential habitat is in China, most of it on the Tibetan Plateau. Conservation efforts are crucial and the people of Muqu village are supporting them in several ways, serving as park wardens, environmental advocates and as partners in applied wildlife research.

Such commitment to environmental protection is rooted in the community’s involvement in a more people-centred approach to environmental management, known as “community co-management”. When locals are treated as genuine partners and allowed to voice their concerns as well as sharing their knowledge, there is a real opportunity to find better models for a sustainable future.

In remote mountain areas of the world, if we are to succeed in protecting the snow leopard, for example, we must equally protect its fragile habitat. To protect the snow leopard is to protect the entire landscape and many other species and habitats will in this way be preserved as well.

For over a decade, around a dozen members of Muqu village have served as wildlife monitors and searched for snow leopards in their rugged mountain terrain. Many different signs can be seen – prints, scrapes, scat and kills – and several times a year, these herders report all their sightings as well as any instance of livestock predation or poaching. Now, with the advent of technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS) and digital cameras activated by motion sensors, an increasingly clear picture of the conservation situation is emerging.

Since 2009, over a dozen camera traps have been set in the mountains of western Yushu, located according to the extensive knowledge of local herders. Nine individual snow leopards have already been captured on film, within an area of about 150-square kilometres. Clearly this geographic area has one of the highest densities of snow leopard in the world. Many other species also live here, including blue sheep, Tibetan antelope, wild ass, wild yak, black-necked crane and saker falcon.

But when snow leopards and wolves flourish, the number of livestock killed by these predators rises – and herders are starting to ask about financial compensation. On the one hand, people want to protect the land and wildlife, but on the other hand, the cost is sometimes deemed too high. Developing alternate sources of income for local herders is crucial, and the solution currently being explored is ecotourism.

While there are many challenges to developing an economically viable and equitable ecotourism project, the potential benefits have swayed many people in the area to give it their best effort, including tourism bureaus and several responsible business partners, community representatives and non-profit organisations. If projects in the Yushu area are well designed from an early stage, then community-based tourism could flourish, bringing benefits to local people. The environment could also be better preserved and more easily appreciated by the nation as a whole.

The benefits of working in genuine partnerships with local communities in the source area of the Yangtze River are already clear. Together we can find viable solutions to protect the high mountains, the grasslands and the wildlife of the Tibetan Plateau. And both the elusive snow leopard and local herders will enjoy the results.

J Marc Foggin has worked in China for around 15 years, focusing his attention on conservation and community development on the Tibetan plateau. He is founding director of international NGO Plateau Perspectives and associate professor in the School of Geography and Life Sciences at Qinghai Normal University. He lives in Qinghai.

The Dalai Lama has called for an end to illegal wildlife trafficking between Nepal, Tibet, India and China

The Dalai Lama has called for an end to illegal wildlife trafficking between Nepal, Tibet, India and China.

He is appealing to exiled Tibetans, who are increasingly involved in the bloody trade, to remember their dedication to Buddhist non-violence.

Last year, Tibetan officials intercepted 32 tiger, 579 leopard and 665 otter skins in one single shipment.

This prompted the Dalai Lama and a pair of wildlife charities to launch an awareness drive around the Himalayas.

“We Tibetans are basically Buddhists, we preach love and compassion towards all other living beings on Earth,” said the exiled Tibetan leader. “Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us to realise the importance of wildlife conservation. We must realise that because of our follies a large number of our animals are getting killed.

The Dalai Lama is working with the charities Care for the Wild International (CWI), from the UK, and the Wildlife Trust of India, to promote an understanding of the damage illegal trading can cause.

The team plan to make videos and leaflets which they will take to Tibetan refugee settlements around India. They also hope to broadcast anti-poaching messages over the TV and radio.

“Thousands will be reached in this way,” said Barbara Maas of CWI. “Eventually, we hope to reach every single one – we will go to schools, we will go to refugee camps, we will go to villages.”

Urgent action

Dr Maas says the project has a sense of urgency because illegal wildlife trading is set to get worse, thanks to a new train line being constructed between the old Tibetan capital of Lhasa and Beijing, the capital of China.

This new transport link will make things easier for poachers wishing to shift animal body parts.

“You can imagine what will happen when the train link opens,” said Dr Maas. “So we are trying to pour water on the flames as they are at the moment and also take pre-emptive action.”

Other charities are in strong support of this new initiative.

“Our own investigation has shown that Tibetans are heavily involved in the organised smuggling of tiger and leopard skins between India and Tibet, and that Tibet is a major market and distribution point for these skins,” said Debbie Banks, of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“We are encouraged that the Dalai Lama is taking action on this serious issue and hope that his message helps to prevent this disgusting trade from spiralling further out of control.”

CWI claims that the illegal wildlife trade is devastating populations of endangered Himalayan and sub-Himalayan wildlife such as tigers, leopards, snow leopards, otters and bears.

Many of these animal body parts head for China, where they find their way into the traditional medicine market.

Wildlife organisations have long worried about this sad pilgrimage, but few have appealed to people’s religious sensibilities to prevent it.

The Dalai Lama carries enormous weight, especially with Tibetans living in exile, so his voice is likely to be heard.

“It is in the Pali and Sanskrit tradition to show love and compassion for all living beings,” he said at a press conference in New Delhi, India. “It is a shame that we kill these poor creatures to satisfy our own aggrandisement.

“We must realise that because of our follies a large number of our animals are getting killed and we must stop this.”

Loud voice

The CWI is under no illusion about the importance of the Dalai Lama backing the campaign.

“This campaign starts and ends with him,” said Dr Maas. “If it was just us saying: ‘Oh please don’t do it’, I’m not sure it would do much good. But His Holiness will make all the difference.”

Underpinning the whole campaign is the hope that, in the end, people all over the world will want to save endangered species not because we can benefit from them financially, but because it is wrong to kill them.

The Dalai Lama said: “Today more than ever before life must be characterised by a sense of universal responsibility not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/04/06 14:58:32 GMT


Rare snow leopard found at foot of Mount Everest 2009-03-18 12:24:59

LHASA, March 18 (Xinhua) — Farmers in Tibet have found a snow leopard at the northern foot of Mount Qomolangma, also known as Everest, said the local forestry department.

The leopard was spotted near Cangmujian Village, Rongxia Township in Tingri, a county in southern Tibet early this month, said the Tingri County Forestry Department.

According to villagers, the big cat was an adult 120 cm long and about 50 cm tall, and it had a 120 cm tail. But the sex of the animal is unknown.

Villagers trapped the animal in a cave after it killed an adult cow, said the forestry department. The department and the Mount Qomolangma Administration sent workers to investigate. They effectively persuaded the villagers to free the leopard.

Snow leopards live in mountains and plateaus across China, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. The number of surviving wild snow leopards is estimated at 3,500, more than half of which live in the remote high mountains of northwest Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan in China, said the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT).

The animal has rarely been seen in the wild recently and is worth a great deal to poachers.

According to Liu Wulin, a Tibet-based forestry expert, the last capture of a snow leopard, a female one aged five to six, took place in December 2007 in Qijia Village in Gonghe County, Hainan Tibet Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province, northwest China.