Nepalese Teenagers become Citizen Monitors for Snow Leopard Conservation

By Darla Hillard

Photo: Snow leopard captured by student-herder team in Nepal’s remote Himalaya

 

High in the Nepalese Himalaya, teenage students are monitoring wildlife in their community. They have made a surprising discovery.

Dr. Som Ale, Regional Director with the

Dr. Som Ale, Regional Director with the Snow Leopard Conservancy has been leading an effort to alleviate conflict between local people and snow leopards in Nepal’s northern regions. The Conservancy has partnered with the National Trust for Nature Conservation-Annapurna Conservation Area Project, to implement proactive, community-based strategies to enable people and wildlife to coexist more harmoniously on the Roof of the World.

Som and his team have coupled monitoring by junior high and high school kids with hands-on conservation education for primary school students in the remote heart of snow leopard habitat. These efforts, and a community-run savings and credit initiative, are being introduced in villages off the beaten track, which don’t receive the benefits of Nepal’s trekking industry.

Students in the Lower Mustang region of Nepal were excited to learn about camera trapping. They were paired with elder livestock herders who know through long experience the snow leopard’s habits and movements. Imagine this team’s excitement when their camera delivered such a stunning image!

 

Photo: Nepalese student and herder set a remotely-triggered camera

 

This was also a learning experience, since they could see the adjustments they needed to make so that next time their camera will capture the cat’s whole body.

Another camera station held an even bigger surprise: the perfectly framed image of a common leopard (Panthera pardus).

Photo:  Common Leopard

The IUCN Cat Specialist Group reports that these leopards are sympatric with snow leopards up to 17,000 feet in the Himalayas, although they more commonly live below the tree line. Rodney Jackson saw one common leopard during his radio-tracking study of snow leopards in the 1980s in Nepal’s far northwest, at about 11,000 feet in a canyon forested only on its north-facing slope. Common leopards have also been seen at about the same elevation around Namche Bazaar in the northeast. Now this team has delivered photographic proof that the two species also overlap in central Nepal.

They have also proven that kids can make a difference.

Student-elder teams are effectively serving as citizen biologists, monitoring local snow leopards and other wildlife. These images enable us to identify individual cats by their unique spotting pattern, so that over time the teams will illuminate the big picture of their local web of life.

This work contributes to science while fostering a sense of ownership and pride—not just in the monitors, but in the community at large—without which no conservation effort can be successful.

Human Journey

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Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).