The Snow Leopard Trust was founded in Seattle, USA in 1981. Their mission is to protect snow leopards and their mountain ecosystem through a balanced approach that addresses the needs of local people and the environment. They are active in five of 12 countries where snow leopards are present: China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan, home to 75% of the world’s remaining wild snow leopards which is estimated at 4,000-6,500 individuals.
In the 1990s, the Trust was one of the first conservation organisations to pioneer “community-based conservation,” in which the economic and social needs of local people are addressed as part of conservation solutions. Its flagship programme is a conservation handicraft initiative called Snow Leopard Enterprises.
India is home to 400-700 snow leopards, the third largest population after China and Mongolia. The Trust works with partner, Nature Conservation Foundation, to address threats to snow leopard survival in India that include:
1) Negative attitudes towards snow leopards due to livestock depredation
2) Snow leopard habitat degradation and loss of wild prey due to excessive livestock grazing
3) Lack of conservation awareness among local people
4) Poaching and illegal wildlife trade
The Trust is running several programmes that support rural livelihoods to encourage greater goodwill towards snow leopards and to protect against economic losses from livestock predation. For example, their livestock insurance programme compensates herders for losses of livestock, and a programme to predator-proof night time corrals helps keeps small livestock—such as the valuable cashmere-yielding goat—safe.
Overgrazing by livestock puts pressure on fragile grasslands resulting in habitat degradation, which in turn leads to a reduction in snow leopard wild prey, such as ibex and blue sheep. To restore snow leopard habitat and encourage the return of wildlife, local communities are compensated for agreeing to set aside grazing-free reserves, which are monitored for grazing violations and for wildlife presence.
In India, as in much of snow leopard range, there is a significant lack of awareness of the value of the snow leopard, its wild prey and habitat, and the local and regional consequences of ongoing ecosystem degradation. The trust conducts educational campaigns to raise awareness for wildlife among adults as well as school-based and outdoor conservation educational activities for children to help foster positive attitudes towards snow leopards and other wildlife.
The programmes described above were located in Upper Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, one of the most important snow leopard habitats in India. Its green pastures, high altitude lakes, ancient Buddhist monasteries, rare and endangered wildlife attract over 10,000 visitors each year. EOCA’s support enabled the Trust to move forward with these key programmes, achieving a great and continued legacy:
- lessons learned from past grazing-free reserves has been used to help set up a 400km2 reserve for 5 years, by far the biggest reserve in Spiti and prime habitat for snow leopards and blue sheep.
- EOCA’s support of the livestock insurance programme means that the trust is now in a position to help communities buffer and stabilize their insurance funds, to guard against wider economic forces—such as the rising value of livestock in India.
- Since 2006, 45 eco-camps have been held in Spiti, and over 1,100 children and 90 teachers have been reached during this time. The feedback has shown positive outcomes with children attending camps showing positive change in their responses to conservation.
The Snow Leopard Trust noted that the EOCA team was very open and communicative as a donor, sharing good information, sharing media, asking insightful questions, and providing feedback on reports. For the Trust, this made it a more fulfilling experience overall, and allowed for more exposure of important work/issues taking place on behalf of snow leopards in northern India.