The Indian Himalayas is home to the exquisite snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the high altitude big cat with smoky-grey fur patterned with dark-grey rosettes. Fewer than 700 snow leopards remain in the high mountains of India and are listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species18 with a decreasing trend in population. Kibber is a small village situated at a height of about 4,200m in Lahaul and Spiti district of the Trans-Himalayan landscape of the State of Himachal Pradesh in North India. The village is situated near the boundary of the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to the elusive leopard. The majority of the village community depends entirely on their herds of livestock for sustenance.
The unregulated grazing of domesticated livestock, led to a decline in grazing area for the wild ungulates such as the Blue sheep and Ibex, resulting in a significant decline in the population of the snow leopard’s natural prey base. As a result, there was a substantial increase in incidents of snow leopards preying on domestic livestock. An estimated annual loss of 12% of livestock holdings was recorded in 1996, due to predation by snow leopards and wolves. This resulted in retaliatory killing of the leopards, usually by poisoning the carcasses of their prey. Only 6 percent of the world’s potential snow leopard habitat is classified as protected area. Since snow leopards require large areas, with individual home ranges typically varying from 100 to 1,000 sq.km (McCarthy & Mallon, 2016), it is often not feasible to create protected areas that are large enough to support many adult snow leopards.
Village reserves, however, provide a potential alternative. Thus, the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in partnership with the Kibber village community began the conservation efforts in 1998, with an objective to increase the wild prey base by establishing village reserves, where communities voluntarily curtail livestock grazing. As of 2019, the reserve was spread across 20 sq.km. The village reserves provide with ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, erosion control, climate mitigation and pollination, apart from supporting the population of wild ungulates. Additionally, a community-managed livestock insurance programme was established that compensated its members when a carnivore killed their livestock. The residents of Kibber have run the programme collectively since its inception in 2002. The Village Council, in consultation with the community members, manages collection of premiums, verification of depredation cases registered by locals and payment of compensation for verified cases. The village has received support from the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the India Programme of Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). Since the inception of this initiative, the community-run livestock insurance programme has compensated for 500 cases of livestock depredation with a compensation payment of over USD 70,851.6 made to the community members. The community has set up cameras around the village reserve to monitor the movements and population of snow leopards. Local guards have been deployed at the agricultural fields to prevent crop damage from wild ungulates, thus preventing hunting of such species. There have been no instances of retaliatory killing of snow leopards by locals in the past two decades. The population of Blue sheep in pastures surrounding Kibber has risen from an estimated 100 in 1998 to 400 in 2018. Winters are a good time to view snow leopards in areas around the village. Locals are putting this knowledge to use through niche wildlife-based winter tourism. Kibber is fast becoming the world capital for spotting snow leopards.
The Kibber Village Community received Special Mention in the India Biodiversity Award under the category, ‘Conservation of Species in Wild’, in 2018.
Tel. +91 94825 19667