The contribution of Rinchen Wangchuk, the late co-founder of Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT) and Dr Tsewang Namgail (46), the current director of SLC-IT for snow leopard conservation in Ladakh is immeasurable.
Rinchen Wangchuk was born in the family of Colonel Chewang Rinchen, an Indian Army officer, and grew up in the serene village of Sumur in Nubra. As a child, he always felt himself attracted towards mountaineering and outdoor life in general. Soon, he started to help wildlife documentary film groups who would want to film snow leopards.
Dr Tsewang Namgail grew up in a village about 125 km away from Leh. On weekends, he would herd goats and sheep and this exposed him to wildlife so much so that he fell in love with it. He graduated from Delhi and returned back to Ladakh in the late 1990s and started working with International Snow Leopard Trust as a field associate. He would spend entire seasons in a tent monitoring snow leopards.
They faced the problem that these snow leopards attack livestock like sheep and goats of local villagers and to avoid that happening in future, villagers would kill snow leopards. Consequently, there were only around 250 snow leopards left in Ladakh. They suffered a dilemma that conserving these animals causes a real threat to livelihoods of locals.
Rinchen established the SLC-IT in 2000 and registered later in 2003 with the help of Dr Rodney Jackson of the US-based Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) in order to promote conservation of wildlife by local community-based efforts.
They had to think of innovative ideas so that both snow leopards and locals’ livestock could be saved. They encouraged locals to make changes to corrals which housed their livestock. Since its starting in 2000, the group has successfully helped in building more than 200 corrals. These corrals have directly benefitted around 5,000 people. These corrals can last upto 60-70 years and each corral is estimated to save 1-2 snow leopards in its lifetime.
SLC-Its have also helped in developing homestays for tourists with locals who would charge from Rs 15,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh per season. These tourists would otherwise use tents and would often carelessly litter in the region they camp. Locals would also show these visitors snow leopards and other wildlife animals.
Thanks to these efforts by the group, locals have experienced a complete shift of mood towards wildlife creatures they share their land with. Even though, occasional killings still take place but the number of snow leopards is significantly down.