Improving Livelihoods, Strengthening Conservation
Snow leopards live in high mountain ecosystems across Asia. Snow leopards share their habitat with local people and communities who use the multiple-use landscape for habitation, agriculture, and, importantly, livestock grazing. People and wildlife have co-existed for centuries, yet there are also hardships incurred— and resultant conservation conflicts for people—as snow leopards occasionally prey on livestock.
Long-term solutions for snow leopard conservation lie in strengthening peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife, rather than promoting their separation through strict protectionism.
This is essential, as a majority of the existing protected areas are too small to effectively conserve viable populations of wide-ranging species such as the snow leopard. In fact, 40% of all protected areas in the snow leopard’s range cannot support even a single adult male. Moreover, mountain communities with limited cultivable land are highly dependent on livestock herding for their livelihoods, where climate change has further complicated the spatial and socio-ecological interactions of the species with its dependent human communities. Therefore, for the snow leopard to survive, it must peacefully co-exist with the human populations.
To strengthen the coexistence of people and snow leopard in Asia’s high mountains and ensure its conservation, local communities need to be fully aware and informed (of its socio-ecological worth) and empowered. Engagement of local communities in snow leopard conservation activities are prerequisites to reduce human-snow leopard conflicts in particular and human-wildlife conflict in general. Interventions need to be adapted to local conditions and situation analysis from each landscape.
This can be achieved by improving local people’s livelihood options (possibly through development and diversification of non-consumptive practices), assisting in conflict management (livestock insurance, ecotourism, crop depredation relief fund, additional livelihood options, corral improvement, livestock vaccination and breed improvement etc.), and providing them opportunities to play a lead role in conservation. Simply imposing policies and legislation on local communities without due consideration of their well-being or their involvement in governance processes will not be effective.
- Historically, most approaches to conservation have been top-down, providing inadequate opportunity and space for communities to become integrally involved in decision making.
- Even today, many formal protection staff and conservationists remain inadequately trained to engage effectively with communities and their concerns and inexperienced in community mobilization skills.
- Due to insufficient collaboration among natural and social scientists, conservationists, development practitioners, and members of local and indigenous communities, in many situations comprehensive training programs in community-based conservation have been limited or even absent in most parts of the snow leopard range.
- There is a lack of adequate benefit sharing mechanism for local communities, especially for livestock herders who often bear the brunt of livestock depredation by wildlife.
- Lack of /weak understanding of the social aspects of conservation among relevant stakeholders, from conservationists to managers, herders and local communities.
To address these bottlenecks and strengthen Community-based conservation in snow leopard habitats, the GSLEP Steering Committee has tasked a working group with developing a set of policy recommendations:
Develop and institutionalize an applied training program in community-based conservation with broad, inter-disciplinary collaborations between conservationists and development practitioners, social scientists, and community partners – to share foundational principles while also providing opportunity to develop locally relevant and viable solutions for conservation.
1. Develop local institutions within and around snow leopard habitats (e.g. formation of user committee and user groups in Nepal that receive 50% of the protected area revenue).
2. Insurance of livestock, relief fund for crops depredation by wildlife and promotion of ecotourism activities could be the alternative options to attract the local communities to snow leopard conservation.
3. Develop new avenues to enhance engagement and interaction between selected industries, business sectors, government and local communities – to provide new opportunities for alternate livelihoods.
4. Enable cross-sectoral communication and engagement for operationalizing the conservation strategies developed as part of the management plans of the 23 snow leopard landscapes.
5. Train at least 500 leaders and field staff from protected areas and NGOs, and community champions in conservation practices such as the PARTNERS Principles for community-based conservation.
6. Initiate comprehensive education and awareness programs to foster awareness about key conservation issues, socio-ecological interactions, conservation values and benefits among mountain communities.
7. Raise resources to support travel and training for protection staff and local communities, including exposure and learning trips to successful initiatives within and between range countries.