While the SLC-IT was working 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 conceptualised 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.