Team @Leh: Tsering Angmo (Education Coordinator), Rigzin Chondol, Rinchen Angmo, Kunzang Chotak Namgyal from Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust, Leh.
Team @Pune: Sujatha Padmanabhan (Coordinator), Yashodara Kundaji, Sharmila Deo from Kalpavriksh Pune,
The Snow Leopard Conservation Education Programme is a collaborative effort between the Snow Leopard Conservancy – India Trust (SLC-IT) and Kalpavriksh (KV) to facilitate the development and implementation of an environment education programme in Ladakh, focused on the conservation of Snow leopards and other wildlife of the local trans-Himalayan region.
The SLC-IT is dedicated to promoting innovative grassroots measures that help local people become better stewards of endangered Snow leopards, their prey, and habitat. The SLC- IT is a registered charitable trust established specifically to work with local communities within India’s Snow leopard range.
Background to the Programme:
While the SLC-IT has worked closely with local agro-pastoralist communities in villages of Leh district (including the Hemis National Park) and in villages of the Zanskar region in Kargil district, a need was felt for more focused efforts to raise awareness amongst children about the environment with specific focus on Ladakh’s biodiversity and the conservation of Snow leopards.
The Ladakh region is part of the Trans-Himalayan region, and is a cold desert characterized by severe winters lasting over six months, with temperatures dropping as low as -50°C in some places. Ladakh has 310 species of birds (including 30 species not seen since 1960); 33 species of larger mammals (little information available on smaller mammals); 3 species of amphibians; 11 species of reptiles and about 611 species of flowering plants.
Much of Ladakh’s wildlife remained intact over centuries, probably because Buddhist teachings encouraged people to live peacefully with wildlife. However, a lot has changed in Ladakh over the last half century, and some fauna species like the wild yak, Tibetan gazelle and the Tibetan antelope have become endangered. Other species like the Snow leopard and the Tibetan wolf are also threatened due to people-wildlife conflicts.
The Snow leopard and the Tibetan wolf are sometimes the target of local people’s ire, as the two predators prey on domestic livestock. Although the wolf actually kills more domestic animals than the Snow leopard, it is the latter that has earned the anger of the local people. This maybe because while the wolf largely preys only on small livestock (like sheep and goats), the Snow leopard kills even large-bodied ones like horses and yaks. Losing these animals is a big economic loss for a rural family. Retaliatory killings of the Snow leopard and wolf do happen when local communities suffer livestock losses to these predators.
The reasons for the attacks are many: poorly constructed livestock enclosures that enable predators to gain entry; lax guarding practices; less number of herders available given the fact that many adults are absent from their villages due to job opportunities available with the army, government and in tourism; and increase in domestic livestock owned by local people.
SLC-IT invited Kalpavriksh personnel to help develop and implement an environment education programme that targets school children of upper primary and middle school levels. The programme was conceptualized in 2005, and work on the programme started in December 2005. Funding for the programme was received from SLC-USA and AID-Columbus and Portland. A total of 4.75 lakh rupees was received for the first year of work; and a total of 11.84 lakh rupees for the following two years.
Objectives of the programme:
- To instill in children the knowledge and appreciation of their rich natural biodiversity.
- To encourage children to understand the importance of harmonious co-existence between humans and wildlife.
- To help children understand issues of wildlife conservation in the hope that they become future stewards of their natural environment.
Area of operations:
The programme has been implemented in 17 schools in Leh and Kargil districts since 2006. The schools were a diverse mix of government and private schools; primary, middle and high schools; those that were accessible by road and those that were not. The programme has so far reached out to over 600 children. Currently (2010) it has been started in 7 schools.
Content and design of the Programme:
The programme focuses mainly on Ladakh’s wild biodiversity (flora and fauna), threats that it faces and conservation actions taken to tackle them. Concepts related to species and ecosystem levels of biodiversity are explored with Ladakh based examples. The content for the programme was put together from many sources: articles, research studies, interviews with local persons, information gathered from local NGOs, etc. The programme is aimed at children of grades 4 to 8. It is implemented by local persons who have an aptitude for such work.
The first year of the programme is aimed at increasing children’s knowledge about their local biodiversity. The programme is conducted through a series of special workshops at the schools. The second year of the programme will see the children working on local issues while still learning more about threats and conservation actions.
Many tools were used during the interactions with the children: discussion, role-play, worksheets, outdoor and indoor games, creative writing, nature study, art and craft, bird-watching trips, films, etc.
Kalpavriksh developed educational material to support the programme. This includes “Ri Gyancha: a biodiversity resource kit for educators in Ladakh” (in press). The resource kit provides a locale-specific environment education programme for those interested in Ladakh, especially its wildlife.
The resource kit includes a handbook with information on Ladakh’s wild biodiversity. The chapters are accompanied by activities to be conducted as part of the programme. Attractive teaching aids are part of the resource kit and include ready-to-use material like posters, nature cards, a board game and worksheets.
Local level action, community involvement
After conducting five workshops, the children choose a local issue to work on. After an initial brainstorming exercise which lists all environmental issues in the village, the children vote to choose what they would work on. So far, schools have initiated garbage management projects in their villages, constructing bins or pits for collection of garbage in their villages and schools. Whitewashing of chortens (stupas) and plantations in schools have also been undertaken.
The projects are initiated with the involvement of family, community as well as Village Education Committee (VECs) members. A special function is held in each village with the help of the VEC, where the children share what they have learnt in this programme. Children also conduct some of the activities and games that were used in the programme; quiz, fauna bingo and web of life.