Based in the town of Leh, the SLC-IT was founded in 2003 by Mr Rinchen Wangchuk, a Ladakhi mountaineer and conservationist. I was lucky enough to visit the SLC-IT office when I was in Ladakh last month and met with Mr Wangchuk. He is a passionate man, strongly focussed on the preservation of the snow leopard in Ladakh’s mountains and improving awareness in the region.
The SLC-IT carries out ecological research, but puts most of its resources into spreading awareness and building local stewardship through community-based tourism and education. It seems that their goal is being met too, with species such as the snow leopard and Himalayan wolf previously being considered pests by the local communities now considered ‘Ri Gyancha’, or ‘Ornaments of the Mountains’. This change in opinion has not come easily, but through huge persistence and an empathy for the challenges that the local people face on a daily basis. The SLC-IT has implemented an insurance scheme in conjunction with local stakeholders, providing financial assistance to farmers that have lost livestock to leopards so that they may buy more livestock and replenish the herd.
They also provide community outreach services, assisting in reinforcing livestock enclosures with wire roofs to prevent access by predators. A little like foxes, snow leopards are known for going on a bit of a killing frenzy, killing multiple animals within a single attack, so the provision of roofing materials for the enclosures has seen a significant reduction in livestock attacks at night. Another initiative that is seeing success in the region is that of para-vet training, whereby the local herders are trained in animal first aid to assist those lucky goats and sheep that manage to escape the clutches of predators, but may have sustained an injury in doing so.
Tourism, when done correctly, has the ability to really make an impact on wildlife conservation.
In Ladakh, the ability for locals to diversify their income by providing homestay accommodation to tourists has been instrumental in changing the way that the local people think about snow leopards. The presence of snow leopards now has the ability to earn the local people money, and therefore assists in reducing the negative impacts that the odd loss of livestock to predation has on each family.