Marc Foggin is founding director of international NGO Plateau Perspectives and associate professor in the School of Geography and Life Sciences at Qinghai Normal University. He’s worked on conservation and community development projects in Tibet for 15 years.
He recently contacted “Saving Snow Leopards Blog” to report on exciting local snow leopard conservation work from this area of Tibet which has one of the highest densities of snow leopard in the world.
“In a remote area of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in China’s western Qinghai province, local Tibetan herders have been actively protecting the snow leopard and other endangered wildlife in the high grasslands and mountains for more than a decade. Now, with help from non-profit organisation, Plateau perspectives, and the Sanjiangyan National Nature Reserve, they are also using “camera traps” to photograph the animals and document their distribution, range and behaviour.
The people of Muqu village are supporting snow leopard conservation by serving as park wardens, environmental advocates and as partners in applied wildlife research.
When locals are treated as genuine partners and allowed to voice their concerns as well as sharing their knowledge, there is a real opportunity to find better models for a sustainable future. If we are to succeed in protecting the snow leopard, for example, we must equally protect its fragile habitat. To protect the snow leopard is to protect the entire landscape and many other species and habitats will in this way be preserved as well.
For over a decade, around a dozen members of Muqu village have served as wildlife monitors and searched for snow leopards in their rugged mountain terrain. Many different signs can be seen – prints, scrapes, scat and kills – and several times a year, these herders report all their sightings as well as any instance of livestock predation or poaching. Now, with technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS) and digital cameras activated by motion sensors, an increasingly clear picture of the conservation situation is emerging.
Since 2009, over a dozen camera traps have been set in the mountains of western Yushu, located according to the extensive knowledge of local herders. Nine individual snow leopards have already been captured on film, within an area of about 150-square kilometres.. Many other species also live here, including blue sheep, Tibetan antelope, wild ass, wild yak, black-necked crane and saker falcon.
But when snow leopards and wolves flourish, the number of livestock killed by these predators rises – and herders are starting to ask about financial compensation. On the one hand, people want to protect the land and wildlife, but on the other hand, the cost is sometimes high. Developing alternate sources of income for local herders is crucial, and the solution currently being explored is ecotourism.
While there are many challenges to developing a viable and equitable ecotourism project, the potential benefits have swayed tourism bureaus and several responsible business partners, community representatives and non-profit organisations to get involved.
Together we can find solutions to protect the high mountains, the grasslands and the wildlife of the Tibetan Plateau. And both the elusive snow leopard and local herders will enjoy the results