As livestock numbers in northern India grow, some of the snow leopard’s main prey species populations are shrinking fast. The cats – and other predators such as wolves – are increasingly forced to predate on domestic animals instead.
In the remote, high altitude valleys of Jammu and Kashmir, where the estimated average annual family income is less than $500, many herders rely on their livestock for survival. They suffer real financial hardship when valuable livestock are lost to snow leopard depredation, and sometimes hunt snow leopards in retaliation.
Stopping the vicious circle – grazing-free reserves
To stop the circle of conflict, the Snow Leopard Trust works with villages to find solutions – one of which is establishing grazing-free reserves. The idea behind the grazing-free reserves is simple: Without competition from livestock, wild sheep, gazelles and goats can flourish – giving snow leopards and other predators more natural prey.
With more of the wild prey they prefer, they stay away from livestock. Recent scientific findings have revealed that this may not necessarily lead to less livestock predation. But it might support larger snow leopard populations*.
This simple concept works. In the oldest and largest reserve, blue sheep—an important snow leopards prey species—have increased four-fold.
Local people make the decisions
Grazing-free reserves have been successful in large part because local people make the decisions. A committee from the target villages decides on land that can be set aside to form a grazing-free reserve. The Snow Leopard Trust compensates the villages with mutually agreed-upon annual fees for herders’ use of alternate pastures, and provides stipends for reserve guards to prevent grazing violations.
Each year, our local team meets with grazing-free reserve committees and guards to check for grazing violations, and conducts wildlife surveys inside the grazing-free reserves to monitor recovery of wild prey populations and natural habitat.
*this post has been edited in April 2013 to reflect new scientific facts that have come to light