Today our instructors challenged us with the task to research Snow Leopards in Leh and find the NGO, Snow Leopard Conservancy. We left our guest house and wandered the back roads of Leh, searching for the SLC. We spoke with locals, despite the language barrier, who were able to point us down different alleys and roads. We crossed our fingers in hopes that we were making our way in the right direction. Sure enough, we soon found a group of signs that pointed us towards the NGO. We spotted a couple more signs and finally found the Snow Leopard Conservancy but to our dismay the gate was locked. We knocked on the gate a few times but there was no answer in return. A local Ladakhi man and daughter walked up and informed us that the NGO was closed but kindly gave them a call for us anyways. We were then informed that we would not be able to speak with the SLC today, but our task wasn’t over. We were able to retrieve their website from a sign posted out front and proceeded to research the infamous Himalayan Snow Leopards and the Snow Leopard Conservancy of Leh.
Beginning in April in Ladakh the first ever estimation of snow leopards will be conducted in the Kashmir and Jammu Forests. As of World War Two, there were about 750 snow leopards in potential states of J-K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. Since then studies have been conducted in regard to the animal’s population, but no actual figures could be established due to the lack of a proper census. Approximately 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards are left in the wild.
That being said, Snow Leopards cover more than 1.8 million square kilometers of mountain habitat in twelve countries across Asia. Most often they are found at altitudes between 9,800 and 17,000 feet in rugged areas. China actually contains 60% of the snow leopards’ habitat.
Since September 14, 2017, the snow leopard was no longer considered “endangered,” but scientists are still urging extreme caution in regards to the animals’ lives. Humans are one of the main reasons behind the animals’ endangerment. The other main threats to the snow leopards include poaching and illegal wildlife trade, retaliatory killing from human-predator conflict, loss of habitat, and climate change, the last of which is threatening to render one third of the snow leopards’ habitat inhabitable.
Many Ladakhis feel animosity toward snow leopards because these animals eat their large livestock, creating economic losses for farming families. This often leads to retaliatory killings of the endangered leopards. The Snow Leopard Conservancy is an NGO which aims to protect snow leopards and their habitats and increase locals’ appreciation of them. They help families by predator-proofing livestock pens, educating herders on proper guarding practices, and providing livestock insurance programs. In addition, they research the behaviors and habitats or snow leopards, work to develop eco-tourism opportunities, and provide conservation education in local schools.
The SLC started a homestay treks program where trekkers can stay in villages with families rather than camping. Homestay treks are beneficial for families because they provide additional income, offsetting livestock losses due to snow leopards. Earning from wildlife tourism increases Ladakhis’ stake in conserving wildlife and changes their attitudes toward snow leopards; it encourages them to view leopards not as pests but as a valuable assets as they draw in visitors and economic opportunities. Ten percent of all homestays’ income goes to a “village conservation fund,” which goes to garbage management, tree plantation, and improving animal husbandry practices.